Over the first several months of 2022, Maine Gov. Janet Mills pushed through a bill that, in part, gave the rights to digital sports betting to the state’s four tribes. The bill caught commercial operators by surprise and was something of a political football — Maine’s tribes do not enjoy the kind of total sovereignty that federally recognized tribes in most states do, and Mills doesn’t want to grant it, so she offered up this olive branch.
But on July 14, the U.S. House of Representatives approved and sent to the Senate a bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine that would expand the rights of Maine’s four tribes. The bill would give the state’s tribes, collectively known as the Wabanaki Nation, the “same access to future beneficial laws as nearly every other federally recognized tribe in America,” according to a press release from Golden’s office.
The bill, HR 6707, was tacked onto the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House 329-101 last Thursday with another Maine Democrat, Chellie Pingree, as co-sponsor. Should the measure win Senate approval and become law, it would amend the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which limits the tribes’ sovereignty and excludes them from applying for assistance under existing laws.
Governor doesn’t support sovereignty
“We deeply appreciate Congressman Golden’s and Congresswoman Pingree’s leadership in building a better and healthier future for the Wabanaki Nations. After 40 years, it is well past time for Congress to alter the Settlement Act to ensure that our people receive equal treatment under federal law as other Native people, ” Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Chief Clarissa Sabattis said via press release.
Maine’s tribes have long sought to amend or undo the 1980 Claims Settlement Act, but they have met resistance at home. At the time the act was passed, Maine stipulated that no federal Indian law that would cut into the state’s power over the tribes would apply to Maine tribes without a specific call-out from Congress. The end result is that Maine is one of two states — Texas is the other — in which federally recognized tribes are denied some rights and access to programs. Mills earlier this summer requested that Congress hold off on considering the bill as she continued her own negotiations with tribes.
Two months after Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a controversial retail and statewide mobile bill into law, not a single major operator has showed interest in getting into the state. That and more in this week's edition of "Get a Grip."https://t.co/Hwoa6qgD0M @jeremybalan
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) July 8, 2022
“What these tribes want is what all communities in my district want: economic opportunity for their families and safer, healthier communities,” Golden said via press release. “We have a long way to go until this bill reaches the president’s desk, but I have been honored to work with Wabanaki tribal leaders and my colleagues to advance this legislation.”
With regard to legal wagering, the bill should have no direct impact on Maine law, which allows each tribe to have one digital platform and provides for retail sportsbooks at two commercial casinos in the state. Should the bill become law, however, it could affect how the state works with tribes with regard to legal wagering and could potentially weaken the state’s ability to negotiate with tribes, which would have expanded sovereignty.
Maine regulators, who are currently in the rule-making process, have said to expect live wagering in the state in mid-2023 at the earliest.