We all do better when we have the freedom and resources to choose the best path for our families and communities. Across the United States, many Indigenous nations have been able to move toward this self-determination through tribal gaming. But over the last four decades, the Maine Legislature, Maine courts and even Maine voters have blocked the Wabanaki Nations from accessing the same tools, all while allowing large, out-of-state corporations to operate slots and casinos. This year, we have an opportunity to upend this dynamic and empower the Wabanaki Nations by authorizing internet gaming in Maine.

Internet gaming includes online gambling activity where an individual wagers money for the opportunity to win money in return. Its popularity has surged in recent years, bolstered by technological advancements and shifting cultural attitudes. This month, Rhode Island became the seventh state to launch internet gaming after legalizing it earlier this year.

We now have the opportunity to embrace this new industry, opening immense opportunities for the tribes and for Maine residents. However, historically, we have pushed back against Wabanaki self-determination at every turn, especially when it comes to supporting economic development.

In 2003, after several attempts to authorize tribal gaming in the Legislature, Maine voters chose to allow slot facilities to prop up harness racing operations instead of gaming opportunities for Wabanaki tribes. Over the next several years, tribal leaders warned that slots, and then casinos, were driving out the high-stakes bingo operations they were permitted to operate.

In 2007, then-Tribal Rep. Donna Loring made this argument on behalf of the tribes: “We are simply asking to be granted the same economic opportunity that Hollywood Slots has been given. Our community is in immediate need. If we are not allowed to operate slot machines, then we cannot compete. We cannot afford to lose the economic resource we have depended on for so many years. I ask you to help us sustain our community.”

They were right, and within a few years, the Wabanaki lost access to a stable, nongovernment source of income.


But it’s not just the tribes that could gain from internet gaming; all of Maine would benefit. Penn National Gambling, one of the region’s largest publicly traded gaming operations, found that proposed internet gaming authorization in Pennsylvania could generate up to $60 million in upfront license fees and roughly $49 million in annual tax revenue by the third full year of operations. The infusion of capital this industry could generate in Maine would bolster services we all depend on.

Opponents of internet gaming claim that gambling erodes our moral character and endangers public health. Yet for decades, large corporations have been permitted to operate major gambling operations here, filling their own pockets with little incentive to reinvest in local communities.

A bill I introduced this session to authorize federally recognized Wabanaki Nations to operate internet gaming includes provisions directing portions of the revenue to be returned to tribal communities and invested in services that benefit us all. Some services include emergency 911 response, opioid addiction treatment, emergency shelter, the Maine Veteran Home Stabilization fund and gambling addiction support services. In the past, revenue from gaming activities has not gone to support public health measures, but rather to subsidizing other gambling industries. My proposal would direct revenue back into our communities, prioritizing public health and economic development.

Internet gaming is the future of the betting industry. This year, Maine has an opportunity to rectify historical injustices and embrace its economic potential. We cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that we can prevent internet gaming from taking root in Maine, nor can we honestly claim that our discomfort with it is about public health when, historically, that argument disappears the moment a large out-of-state corporation stands to benefit.

By allowing federally recognized Wabanaki tribal nations to operate internet gaming platforms, Maine can seize this new economic opportunity and work toward a future where Wabanaki people and their neighbors across the state can truly flourish.

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