Maine Tribes Oppose Controversial Casino Expansion Push

Two of Maine’s federally recognized tribes mounted opposition to the proposed construction of a third casino within the state’s borders. Maine residents will be able to cast their vote in support for or against the casino expansion push at the upcoming November 7 referendum.

Under state laws, gambling expansion plans cannot be carried out without voters’ approval. Earlier this year and as a result from a highly controversial campaign, casino backers gathered enough signatures to put the casino question on the ballot.

On Thursday, chiefs of two of Maine’s largest tribes – the Passamaquoddy and the Penobscot Nation issued a joint statement arguing that the casino vote represents an attempt for “manipulation of the state’s policymaking process” and that the construction of a new casino in Maine will harm its federally recognized tribes and will stall economic development in rural areas.

Maine voters will be able to vote “yes” or “no” on Question 1 in the upcoming Tuesday referendum. A “yes” vote would mean that a voter approves the construction of a full-blown casino or a slots parlor in Maine’s York County. A “no” vote would oppose the plan that has been promoted by people close to businessman Shawn Scott.

If the proposed casino expansion is approved by voters, this would give Mr. Scott and his partners the right to bid exclusively for a license from local gambling regulators and eventually build a gambling venue in a yet-to-be-specified location in the above-mentioned county.

Back in 2003, Mr. Scott was given the nod to expand the Bangor horse race track by adding slot machines. The businessman then sold his stake in the gambling operation to Penn National. The deal created quite a lot of controversy and since then, any mention of Mr. Scott’s name in relation to the state’s gambling industry has caused a wave of negative reactions.

Why Are Tribes Opposing the Casino Push?

The chiefs of the two tribes argued that if the casino ballot passes, it will void existing revenue sharing agreements with Oxford Casino. The tribes receive a portion of the gambling venue’s revenue under a previously penned compact with the state. A new agreement will be signed if the casino expansion plan succeeds and the two tribes are not happy with what it would include.

Tribal officials pointed out that a different revenue sharing formula had been proposed and they had not been asked for their opinion on the matter.

Under the existing compact, tribes will stop receiving contributions from Oxford Casino as soon as they open their own gambling venues or begin accepting revenue from other gaming facilities. The construction of a York County casino will effectively put an end to that previous agreement.

The two tribes’ chiefs also argued that while the new casino proposal’s language suggests that Maine’s four tribes will benefit from the move, they do not really see how this would happen.

The measure was also recently opposed by most of the state’s gubernatorial candidates. Voters are set to select their new top official this time next year.

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