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Maine Tribe Makes Another Attempt at Gambling Facility
07/26/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A new state gambling commission met for the first time in Augusta today and representatives of Maine's four Indian tribes hope it will mark the beginning of a new era. They have never given up hope of operating their own tribal gaming enterprises. But as A. J. Higgins reports, they will have to advance their proposals alongside other members of the group that also includes gambling opponents and representatives of the state's two casinos.

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The new commission has a long name - The Commission to Develop a Competitive Bidding Process for the Operation of Additional Casinos or Slot Machines - which describes its purpose.

Even as the work gets off the ground, members of Maine's Passamaquoddy Tribe are planning to make another attempt to bring a combined racetrack and casino to Calais. Their hopes are riding on the makeup of the 20-member commission, which includes four tribal representatives.

But the commission also includes two representatives of Maine casinos, who want to see their interests protected, and someone from the Christian Civic League of Maine, who would prefer to see all forms of gambling in Maine outlawed. As Democratic Sen. John Patrick, the group's chair and one of four lawmakers on commission, knows - the panel has its work cut out for it.

"Our goals may be different and I would expect that, but even if there's 50 different things, what matters is what do we have in front of us as a charge in law with what we should try to come up with," Patrick said.

Currently, there is a moratorium on applications for gambling facilities in Maine. The one exception is for the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which worked out a compromise with the Legislature to revisit its 20-year-old effort to bring slot machines to Washington County.

But Brenda Commander, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseets and a member of the panel, says the possibility of new gaming revenues interests all of Maine's tribes - even though Maine officials point out that the federally-recognized tribes ceded gambling rights when they signed the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement Act in 1980.

"We're looking for those opportunities also, not just the Maliseet Tribe but all of the Wabanaki," Commander said. "And over the years, I think, it's been a little frustrating because it has initially been the Indian tribes who came out many years ago to do this."

And Commander wasn't the only representative from northern Maine to speak out on the issue. "It's safe to say that how many in this room have been past Bangor?" asked Chief Richard Getchell, of the Aroostook Bankd of Micmacs.

Getchell emphasized that too many studies on gaming tend to focus on the southern areas of the state, and that those opportunities should also be available residents of northern Maine - Indian and non-Indian alike.

"As we come down here from up north we always notice and recognize that we do have a population up there and it should be represented down here - and I know it is, but we always take every opportunity we can to point out that there's that age-old issue of two Maines, and so on and so forth," Getchell said. "Well we suffer from that so I think it's important. I'm just as curious to see what kind of impact that would have on the citizens of northern Maine, as it would the native tribes of northern Maine."

Given the tribe's unsuccessful track record of repeatedly trying to secure gaming concessions from the Legislature and the voters, Maliseet Chief Brenda Commander is, not surprisingly, somewhat skeptical that the commission will reach consensus on the tribal gambling issue, especially with so many diverse interests on the panel.

"I'm thinking probably not, but and I'm not sure where this will go from here," Commander says. "But I'm pleased that I'm here and that we're a part of this."

The commission can hold up to six meetings, and is required to submit a report with recommendations to the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs by next February.


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