A bill from a Portland lawmaker is holding the door open for Native American tribes in Maine to pursue casino gambling, keeping alive the decades-long political debate that has consistently come down on the wrong side for the state’s Indigenous peoples.

Rep. Ben Collings, a four-term Democrat who has worked as a tribal consultant, introduced the bill as a placeholder intended to keep a tribal gambling proposal in the wings, ready to go, after state lawmakers act on a tribal sovereignty bill expected to come out in the next few weeks.

“Every session, I put in a tribal gaming bill, and it’s up to the tribes to decide what to do with it,” he said. “Gaming could be very positive for the tribes and the surrounding area, and go a long way toward fixing things for Maine tribes, but sovereignty is the number one priority. Sovereignty first.”

The Legislature adjourned last year without taking action on a bill to recognize the sovereignty of Maine’s tribes. Gov. Janet Mills had released a letter asking tribal leaders and lawmakers to stand down from their efforts so she wouldn’t have to veto it, saying it could lead to increased litigation.

This session’s version of Collings’ tribal gaming bill, L.D. 1944, would require the state to negotiate for a casino license with a federally recognized tribe or any combination of tribes in Maine that wish to own and operate a casino on tribal lands.

In addition, the state could negotiate with all federally recognized Indian tribes in Maine for a license to operate a casino on non-tribal land, so long as it is not in Penobscot or Oxford counties, which is where Maine’s two privately operated, state-licensed casinos are located.


The Maine tribes have exclusive rights to what is predicted to become a lucrative online sports-betting market, but the state gambling commission is still drafting the rules that will apply. On May 3, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Aroostook Band of Mi’kmaq and Penobscot Nation announced they would be partnering with Caesars Digital to conduct online sports betting.

“We are now waiting for Maine’s gambling control board to finalize the regulations for online sports betting and determine the date at which we will go live,” said Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk E. Francis in a letter to tribal members. “Our agreement with Caesars provides that the Tribes will receive annual mandatory minimum payments once we begin operations.”

A spokesman for the Wabanaki Alliance said Tuesday that the tribes did not have anything to say about tribal gambling for publication. At the start of the current legislative session, at an event in Augusta held by the alliance, tribal chiefs told lawmakers that sovereignty was their top legislative priority.

Collings’ last tribal gaming bill was passed by the Maine Legislature in 2021 with strong bipartisan support – 97-40 in the House and 22-13 in the Senate – but fell short of the two-thirds vote threshold necessary to override a veto from Gov. Janet Mills.

“This bill provides no predictability or meaningful limitations on where tribal gaming may occur, or on the size of each facility,” Mills wrote in her veto letter. “The tribal gaming facilities that the legislation would authorize could be large or small, anything from a grand casino to a few slot machines.”

The bill, L.D. 554, would have granted the four federally recognized tribes in Maine – Maliseets, Mi’kmaq, Penobscots and Passamaquoddy – the same level of sovereignty over gambling afforded to more than 500 other tribes across the country under federal law.

Collings is considered a champion of tribal rights by the Wabanaki Alliance, a coalition of the Maliseets, Mi’kmaq, Penobscots and Passamaquoddy formed in 2020 to promote statewide awareness of tribal sovereignty.

In addition to his work on tribal gambling and sovereignty bills, Collings sponsored a bill to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was adopted in 2019. His effort to add a tribal member to the board of Baxter State Park, home of Katahdin, is pending before a legislative committee.

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