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Maine Tribes Propose Beano Expansion
02/11/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Native American tribes in Maine are hoping to hold on to a gaming niche by modernizing and expanding beano. A proposed bill would allow all five tribes to operate electronic high stakes beano, where players can opt to compete at terminals connected to a computer instead of with a piece of paper and plastic chips. Tribe officials say as Maine has ushered in other gaming over the years, they've simultaneously left the wants and needs of the tribes behind. Patty Wight reports.

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Maine Tribes Propose Beano Expansion
Originally Aired: 2/11/2013 5:30 PM

If there's one thing that Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis wants to make clear, it's that this bill has nothing to do with casinos. This is just about beano. It would remove current restrictions on the number of times tribes can offer high stakes beano games. Perhaps more significantly, it would allow all Maine tribes to offer electronic high stakes beano. Right now only one tribe, the Passamaquoddy, has that authority.

"The critics are quick to say, 'Well, this is a back door into slot machines,' for example," Francis says, "and nothing really could be further from the truth."

Chief Francis says beano has evolved from a traditional church game to a form of entertainment, and to keep pace with the change, tribes need to attract a new kind of player. Those players are looking for something more modern and exciting - something more electronic.

"People will not walk into a bingo facility and sit down and just play on a piece of paper all day," he says. "Some will - we're losing that generation of player, and really, getting into a situation - even through attrition, we're not getting new, young players to come to our game."

It's not for lack of effort. For years, tribes have tried time and again to open a racino or casino. All of those attempts have failed - whether through governor veto, as John Baldacci did in 2006, or voter rejections at the polls. Yet in the midst of these efforts, two new casinos - Hollywood Casino in Bangor, and the Oxford Casino - have opened.

"It's really, really devastated our income from our high stakes game," says Wayne Mitchell, the representative for the Penobscot Nation in the legislature and sponsor of the bill. Mitchell says that lost income has hit his community hard - they have less funding for community services like assisted living and meal programs for the elderly, as well as youth programs.

Without updating its beano game, Mitchell says, it's tough to compete with places like Hollywood Slots. Buses bring in players every weekend to both locations, but he says people tend to spend the bulk of their cash at the casino, where things like free breakfasts entice them to stay and play.

"So we're just trying to modernize and provide a little more entertainment for our clientele and try to keep them in our facility a little bit longer to spend a little bit more of their money," Mitchell says.

Mitchell has 10 co-sponsors for his bill, from York to Bangor, who include one Republican and nine Democrats. Hollywood Casino and the City of Bangor did not return requests for comment by airtime. While Rep. Mitchell hasn't heard any opposition to his bill yet, Chief Kirk Francis expects push-back.


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