Maine Governor Okays Bill to Give Tribal Nations Control over Mobile Sports Betting

Maine Governor Janet Mills passed a bill into law yesterday, allowing federally recognized tribal nations to exclusively launch remote sports wagering via mobile apps in the state. The new bill envisages lower tax rates and provides a framework for better collaboration between the tribal nations and their commercial partners. According to Gov. Mills, the sports betting legislation will provide valuable economic opportunities for local Wabanaki tribes like the Maliseet, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy.

The newly passed law will also attract investment in the Native American communities and incentivize collaborations that will lay the foundations for solid economic relationships in the years to come. Gov. Mills praised the bill as significant, although it does not go as far as previous proposals that would have ensured greater sovereignty for Maine’s tribal nations.

Under the current conditions, the tribes must collaborate with private operators in order to provide mobile sports wagering. The tribal nations were previously pushing for exclusive rights over sports betting products in Maine, but these efforts came to no pass.

Maine Senator William Diamond (D), a staunch supporter of legal sports wagering, told local media earlier this year that he believed the idea would gain considerable legislative support. According to Sen. Diamond, many lawmakers felt the Wabanaki nations should get a fair share of this segment of the gambling industry. Not everyone embraces the idea of the tribes gaining control of mobile sports wagering, however.

One owner of an off-track betting shop in Lewiston and a long-time supporter of sports wagering believes the bill does not provide a level-playing field for all market participants. Mr. Jim Day, who owns the Winners’ Circle betting parlor, argues that the bill prevents landbased locations from taking advantage of the lucrative online segment, which accounts for 85% of the wagering market.

Full Sovereignty Remains Priority for Maine Tribes

Despite yesterday’s signing of the bill, the tribal nations’ victory is somewhat bittersweet as the new legislation does not provide them with the full sovereignty that they sought. The legislation would amend the 1980 Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, entitling the Wabanaki nations to equal treatment on par with other federally recognized tribes in the US.

The current Maine law treats Native American reservations like municipalities and as such, they must comply with state laws. The Wabanaki nations received generous legislative support earlier in 2022. Regardless, the nations’ chiefs assured in a statement that complete sovereignty remains their goal and priority for the future.

Maine legislators already made some steps in this direction and allowed the Passamaquoddy nation to manage its own water system in cooperation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency rather than with Maine’s regulatory agencies.

Figuratively speaking, Gov. Mills extended an olive branch to the tribes by signing the mobile betting bill, which she also sponsored. Gov. Mills has committed to helping the tribal nations but herself opposes the idea of granting them full sovereignty.

The newly signed bill will enable Maine’s federally recognized tribes to obtain mobile betting licenses on condition they either build their own sportsbooks with B2B software providers or partner with B2C companies like FanDuel or DraftKings. Up to ten retail licenses will be available to casino operators, horse racetracks, and off-track betting operators, allowing them to take in-person wagers.