Governor Janet Mills’s signature on LD 585 to legalize sports betting in Maine is a monumental event. Exclusive licensing for online betting to Maine’s tribes is a significant financial gift. Having accomplished that goal, the tribes are free to concentrate on LD 1626. The 130th legislature entered the last day of the second regular session on May 9, although a later special session is always a possibility.

Chris Babbidge Courtesy photo

I am opposed to sports betting in Maine for three reasons: It is bad for the integrity of sports, it will damage the welfare of some families facing financial insecurity, and it will draw Maine dollars out-of-state to the contracted gambling operation that will manage Maine’s new gambling option. However, LD 585 was written by the governor in negotiation with the tribes, and given my party’s majority in both chambers, I knew the bill had a path to success. Acknowledging that, I chose to educate on a specific shortcoming of the bill.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision, 30 states have legalized sports betting. It generates easy money for states, which tax the revenue collected by gaming management corporations after payouts have been awarded. Pennsylvania specifies that a 34 percent tax goes directly to its general fund to benefit all Pennsylvanians. New York, Rhode Island and New Hampshire all tax at 51 percent.

The good thing about LD 585 is that it benefits the tribes. A bad thing is that it will increase problem gambling in Maine. The shortcoming is that Maine’s tax is just 10 percent, with only 6.5 percent going to the Maine’s general fund.

Although Maine has supported tribal self-determination, LD 1626 would take the leap to tribal sovereignty. My worry was that setting up a checkerboard of tribal trust land across the state would, if sovereign, attract wealthy interests, particularly gambling and mining corporations, to offer big money in order to be free of state taxes and regulations.

My minority Ought-to-Pass Report in committee was designed to be fair to Mainers, tribal and non-tribal, of future generations. One major motivation of mine these past three years was to protect pristine Moosehead Lake from development of a destination Indian casino. I recall the attempt to locate an Indian casino on the edge of Kennebunk 19 years ago, a proposal that was rejected by voters of the state, the county, and 85 percent of Kennebunk residents.

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LD 1626 expressly states that gaming remains under state regulation. Given that concession and clarification on another point, I voted yes on the sovereignty bill. But important issues remain.

I realize some will advocate for a bill regardless of the fine print, but that is not my charge. A bill proposed by the lawyers of one of the state’s largest landowners deserves scrutiny. Because, unlike any other governmental decision, sovereignty, when surrendered, cannot be reasserted or corrected by a future legislature, I understand why the governor is treading carefully and wants to do right not only to those she serves but also to their descendants.

Meanwhile, Maine’s indigenous people can feel good about the many pieces of legislation passed by this legislature to benefit them, and now, beginning in August, the governor’s native constituents can look forward to a new lucrative income for tribal governments.

Christopher W. Babbidge is representative for Maine House District 8, Kennebunk. He can be reached at [email protected]

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