Already blocked in Florida and facing an uphill battle in California, DraftKings and FanDuel could be locked out of Maine where legislation is moving to give Indian gaming tribes exclusive rights to online sports betting.
A judiciary committee composed of House and Senate members of the Maine legislature voted 8-6 on March 16 to advance a bill that would restrict a future internet sports-betting market to the state’s four recognized tribes.
Lawmakers also added an amendment, with the consent of the four tribes, which would allow Maine’s two casinos to offer in-person retail wagers on games without any betting online.
Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Nation — one of the recognized tribes in Maine, said he is optimistic the bill will become law this year.
“The tribal nations have worked closely with Governor [Janet] Mills to develop a proposal for legalization that will primarily benefit tribal and rural communities,” Francis told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email on Tuesday (March 22).
The committee vote in Maine is another example of tribes flexing their political muscle to stymie efforts by DraftKings, FanDuel and other commercial sports-betting operators to expand their operations in more states.
FanDuel declined to comment on the vote in Maine. DraftKings did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
However, the Sports Betting Alliance, whose members include the two companies as well as BetMGM and Bally's, testified at last week's committee hearing by the Maine legislature's judiciary committee to warn that legislation granting exclusive rights over sports wagering to tribes could limit the state's sports-betting market to no more than four operators, if not just one, and would represent "a significant step backwards from the existing proposal to legalize sports betting market in Maine."
"While states have taken slightly different approaches in their respective sports wagering frameworks, one thing is clear: an online marketplace with multiple qualified and experienced operators is critical to the success of the industry," the alliance wrote in its testimony.
On January 28, in a huge victory for the Seminole Tribe, DraftKings and FanDuel abandoned efforts to collect enough signatures to put a sports-betting referendum on the election ballot in November in Florida.
A similar signature-gathering effort in California appears to be succeeding, but powerful gaming tribes in the Golden State oppose what they call the “corporate online measure” by DraftKings and FanDuel.
The California tribes prefer their own sports-betting referendum, which already has qualified for the November ballot and would limit wagers on sports to their brick-and-mortar casinos.
Another factor which could boost sports-betting efforts in Maine this year is the governor’s race.
Democratic Governor Janet Mills, who is running for re-election, vetoed a sports-betting bill in February 2020.
“For the state to legitimize it (sports betting) and to invite all comers to throw away their money, I think is a wrong societal message,” Mills told VIXIO GamblingCompliance shortly after her veto, which occurred just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck with full force.
The Maine Senate voted 20-10 to override Mills veto in 2020, but even though the House also voted 85-57 to override, there were not enough votes to meet the requirement of a two-thirds majority.
The Cook Political Report lists the Maine governor’s race this year as “Lean D,” meaning Mills is slightly favored to win re-election.
However, former Republican Governor Paul LePage is expected to be a tough challenger for Mills in a year which almost certainly will be hostile for Democratic incumbents.
The shift on sports betting by Mills has been linked to her first campaign for governor in 2018 when she pledged to bolster tribal sovereignty in Maine.
Three of the four tribes in Maine — the Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, and the Maliseet — were recognized by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act in 1980.
The 1980 act in Maine specifically excludes federal tribal law, such as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988, from applying to tribes in Maine.
The fourth tribe in Maine — the Aroostook — did not gain recognition until 1991, three years too late to be covered by IGRA.
By fulfilling her campaign pledge to tribes when she first ran for governor, Mills could shore up her political base in her race this year against LePage.
Additional reporting by James Kilsby.