AUGUSTA — Leaders of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes spoke out Thursday against the proposed York County casino, revealing a divide among Maine’s Indian tribes over Question 1 on the statewide ballot.

The chiefs of the Penobscot Nation as well as Passamaquoddy communities at Indian Township and Pleasant Point called Question 1 “a bad deal” for their tribes and for the state as a whole. In a joint statement released Thursday, the three chiefs called Question 1 “an exploitation of the (referendum) process in the name of out-of-state casino interests that have misrepresented the true effect of their effort.”

“If approved, Question 1 would stand to directly injure the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Nation by significantly reducing financial support that the tribes currently receive under a voter-approved revenue sharing agreement with Oxford Casino,” said Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis, Passamaquoddy-Indian Township Chief William Nicholas and Passamaquoddy-Pleasant Point Chief Ralph Dana.

“This arrangement is written into state law and is intended to strengthen tribal governments and communities,” the statement continued. “However, the York County casino backers have put our communities’ stability in danger without our permission by undermining the existing revenue sharing agreement.”

Question 1 is seeking voter approval for a third casino in Maine, this one to be built somewhere in York County by Shawn Scott, who won authorization for the state’s first gambling facility in Bangor in 2003. While supporters contend the York County casino will create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate $45 million in annual tax revenue, the campaign has been dogged by controversy and is the subject of an ongoing probe by the Maine Ethics Commission.

One of Maine’s four federally recognized Indian tribes, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, endorsed Question 1 last month following negotiations between tribal leaders and Scott. While the legislation behind Question 1 does not include the tribes in the revenue allocation formula, Scott’s Progress for Maine campaign agreed to help “create new non-gaming economic development opportunities for the tribe” of roughly 1,200 members in northern Maine. Progress for Maine paid $25,000 to the Aroostook Band of Micmacs on Oct. 6 for “grassroots outreach and mobilization,” according to campaign finance disclosure reports.

In announcing their support for Question 1, the Micmac leaders pointed out that revenues from the Oxford Casino only flow to the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes. The state law authorizing the Oxford Casino requires the facility to earmark 4 percent of revenues from slot machines – just shy of $2.6 million last year – to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribal governments. The revenue “cascade” from Hollywood Casino in Bangor does not include any specific allocation to tribes.

“Question 1 affords us an opportunity to work with our fellow tribes and elected leaders to ensure that all Native American tribes in Maine can benefit from the gaming and entertainment industry,” Edward Peter-Paul, tribal chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, said in a statement on Oct. 13.

Maine’s tribes have made repeated attempts, including one this year, to gain voter or legislative approval for slot machines and/or table games on tribal lands. Voters’ and lawmakers’ refusals to endorse the tribal gaming facilities have become another friction point in the fraught relations between the tribes and the state.

Backers of Question 1 have spent more than $8 million to date on the ballot initiative. Opposition to the proposed York County casino has been led by Oxford Casino and its owner, Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, because a York County facility would compete for some of the same visitors. Less foot traffic and gambling at Oxford Casino would, therefore, result in a loss of shared revenue flowing to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes.

In their statement, the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot chiefs said they “do not support back-room deals that purport to look out for our best interests.”

“This isn’t just a bad deal for us – it’s a bad deal for Mainers,” Francis, Dana and Nicholas said. “As far as we can tell, the only real winner would be a group of shady investors from out of state.”

The tribal leadership of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians has yet to take a public position on the York County casino ballot measure.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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