The state of Maine, with the Atlantic Ocean lapping up to its east and south borders, is one of the United States' most remote and picturesque locations. Inhabitants enjoy land that is 83 percent covered by trees, according to the USDA Forest Service. The population is less dense in the Pine Tree State than many other states; because of this, the gambling industry in Maine is small as well. Just two major commercial casinos operate in the state right now, neither of which are linked to any of Maine's Native American tribes. These casinos are the Hollywood in Bangor and the Oxford Casino in Oxford. The Penobscot Bingo Hall, owned and operated by the Penobscot/Panawahpskek tribe of Maine, is the only Native American-owned gaming facility in the area, although some advocates would like to see a change.
Maine's Gambling History
Although gambling is not a huge part of the state's pristine landscape, it has its place in history:
- In 1950, Scarborough Downs of Maine opened as a “small family business.” The harness racing venue, located in the town of Scarborough, features a half-mile track and offers live horse race betting nine months out of the year.
- The Penobscot Bingo Hall opened in 1973 in Old Town. The hall exclusively provides bingo and was one of the first Native American halls in the country to do so.
- The Maine State Lottery was approved in 1974 by a statewide referendum. It continues to operate today.
- In 2004, Maine's Gambling Control Board determined that the state could operate a single commercial casino in addition to the bingo hall. That facility was the Hollywood Slots, otherwise known as the Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway, introduced in 2005.
- Half a decade later, in 2010, voters approved the opening of a second hall, the Oxford Casino.
Hollywood Casino and Raceway in Bangor
Bangor's Hollywood offers nearly 1,000 slot machines, poker, roulette, blackjack, and live harness racing through the warmer months. A 150-room hotel is attached to the casino for guests' comfort and convenience. Guests can enjoy live music in the entertainment hall and partake of the Epic Buffet and snack bar.
Residents in the southern portion of the state enjoy easy access to the Oxford Casino, located in the gorgeous Lakes and Mountains area and within driving distance of Portland. Nearly 900 slot machines and 26 table games, including poker, roulette, and blackjack, entertain guests 24/7 at this small, yet exciting, gambling hall.
Though not an official casino with slots and table games, Scarborough Downs thrills gamers with its live, year-round harness racing events. For four years now, the Downs has been voted best recreation destination in the region. Visitors enjoy beautiful beach scenery and easy access to nearby Portland.
Maine House and Senate Butt Heads Over New Tribal Casino
For years now, the American Indian tribes of Maine have been angling for a gambling hall of their own. The Maine House recently put forth a bill that would provide for the construction of a new casino on tribal land in Aroostook County. Per the bill, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Native Americans would operate the proposed facility. R. Clayton Cleaves, a chief of the Passamaquoddy tribe, told reporters he's hoping the new hall will be approved because it would create jobs for Native Americans on Maine's reservations.
Cleaves' hopes were dashed, however, when the Maine Senate shut the bill down earlier this month, rejecting the Aroostook proposal along with two other bills that were loosely related. Senate members from both the Republican and Democratic parties shunned the idea of expanded gambling in Maine, arguing that the state needs to fine-tune its gambling regulations before opening the flood gates to even more casinos. Republican Senator Garrett Mason warned members of the Senate that they should “press the pause button” on the House's proposal for a new gaming facility, saying that current policy is too “helter-skelter” to justify more haphazard expansion at this time.
Senator Margaret Craven countered Mason's statement, saying that the citizens of Maine have “overshadowed them (the Native Americans) long enough.” The Native Americans were disappointed by the Senate overturn, but the House will continue to hone its ideas with the hope that a future bill will pave the way to gambling expansion.
A Contrast to Other Areas of the Country
Members of other U.S. states have not been so cautious about gambling expansion. In New York, voters recently approved the addition of seven new casinos over the next several years. In New Jersey, politicians are considering the possibility that Atlantic City-style gaming might fare well in other areas of the state. Ohio, a state in which gambling was once completely illegal, now boasts four new casinos, the most recent of which opened in 2013 [click to read]. Lawmakers in Illinois want to consider the possibility of 24-hour gambling as a way to increase revenue in that state.
Online gambling is also now legal in three U.S. states: Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. Chris Christie seems to be the champion of online gaming in New Jersey, but Christie is not a lone pioneer in this area; politicians in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, and several other states have joined the push for legalized online games. Note: While online gambling appears to only recently have become legal, gamers should be aware that no U.S. law prohibits Americans from wagering online. Rather, American financial institutions are prohibited from handling transactions associated with gambling online. Current laws do not implicate Americans themselves.
Maine is not quite keeping step with the rest of the country when it comes to gambling expansion. The fight is likely to continue between the House and Senate on this issue. Until then, the citizens will have to get their fix from the facilities available to them or travel to nearby New Hampshire or Massachusetts for their casino fun.