A bill to allow the Passamaquoddy Tribe to establish a casino in Calais went down to defeat in the Maine Senate on March 27. While the House of Representatives had been supportive, the Senate voted 20 to 15 against the measure. Previously, on March 19 the Senate voted 19 to 15 to indefinitely postpone the bill, but on March 25 the House voted to insist that the Senate reconsider the amended bill.
Before the vote, Passamaquoddy Rep. Madonna Soctomah, who sponsored the bill, understood that senators wanted to hold off on all of the gaming bills that had not already been killed until a statewide plan was developed concerning gambling. "Twenty years ago that was said to the tribe, to do this study and that study of gaming impacts, while they developed a plan for the state for gaming," she says. "Now we know that was a facade while they were planning to do gaming in Bangor. They did Hollywood Slots without a gaming plan for the state."
She understood that the Senate may tie the different tribal gaming bills together. "Why do they want to tie them together other than to have them sunk?" she asks. "They didn't do that with Hollywood Slots or Oxford. There's always a problem with a Native gaming bill."
Soctomah says that while she applauds the members of the House for their vote in favor of the bill, she says "the Senate is working overtime to defeat the gaming bills." She says the politics against expanding gaming in the state are very strong. "There were 11 lobbyists in the Senate when they were voting, trying to suppress gaming and to protect Hollywood Slots and Oxford." She says it appeared as though there was no area of the state that the Senate had any responsibility for other than Bangor and Oxford. "They're lobbying very hard against any other gaming."
During the January 8 hearing before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, the general managers of Hollywood Casino and Oxford Casino and the Bangor city manager spoke in opposition to the Passamaquoddy gaming bill, stating that they feared the "cannibalization" of the two casinos, as the Hollywood general manager stated, with an expansion of gaming in the state. They felt the state has reached its saturation point with gambling.
Soctomah believes the mindset of the majority of legislators is now to "get all you can and keep it for yourself," while no action is taken to assist Washington County. She notes that the rural areas of the state don't have the votes to make a difference. "It's very disturbing. You question where is the true democracy."
Noting that the Passamaquoddys have been pursuing a casino or racino in the state since 1992, long before the Bangor or Oxford casinos were considered, Soctomah states, "For 20 years the Passamaquoddys have been given every excuse for why we can't have gaming. They don't hold water. You have to say it's discriminatory." Preferential treatment is being granted to non-Natives for gaming facilities, she maintains. "We're told to do the homework while they develop the two other gaming facilities." Some legislators say they will never vote for gaming because of their religious convictions, but Soctomah says, "Religious convictions don't belong in the legislature. They belong in church." She also points out that some legislative leaders say they don't believe in gaming, "but they don't mind spending the money" the state receives from the casino revenues.
Back on March 6, the House had voted 99-37 against the "ought not to pass" recommendation of the majority of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, and the amended bill recommended by the minority of the committee was given initial approval in the House. The minority report amends the bill to allow the tribe to operate a casino in Washington County where high-stakes beano operations have been authorized, while the original bill would have authorized only a slot machine facility. The casino would have to approved in a referendum in Washington County.
On March 20, the House also had insisted that the Senate reconsider two other gaming bills, one to allow the Houlton Band of Maliseets to operate a casino with table games and up to 1,500 slot machines in Houlton and the other to allow the state's harness racing industry to compete with casino gaming by having up to 1,500 slot machines next to harness racing tracks, which would allow the Scarborough Downs raceway to create a racino.