Maine legislators heard testimony about a proposed online casino bill on Jan. 3. However, lawmakers stopped short of making a decision about LD1777 during the public hearing in the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs. That’s because the Maine State House in Augusta was evacuated due to a bomb threat later ruled a hoax by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Around 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 3, committee Chairman Craig Hickman said calmly to committee members and public hearing attendees:
We are being asked to evacuate the building. There is a credible bomb threat.
By 3 p.m., the Associated Press reported the FBI was investigating hoax bomb threats emailed to 12 capitol buildings — including Maine — that warned of “multiple explosives that would go off in a few hours.”
CNN counted 23 state houses threatened.
Sen. Hickman, D-Kennebec, said the hearing would resume. However, the evacuation ended the committee meeting.
Testimony Supporting LD1777
State House Speaker Rachel Talbot-Ross testified in favor of LD1777:
Tribal governments must be able to create greater economic development on Tribal lands. Period.
Tribes need to be able to determine for themselves how best to provide for the economic development of their communities. Maine needs to get out of the way, said Shirley Hager of The Tribal-State Relations Committee of the Friends Committee on Maine Public Policy. She also supported the Maine online casino bill.
Maine Online Casino Bill Opposition
Randy Billings of the Portland Press Herald reports even Gov. Janet Mills may oppose the Maine online casino bill.
Lawmakers heard a lot of negative testimony on Jan. 3 about LD1777.
First introduced in 2023 by state Rep. Laura D. Supica, D-Bangor, and carried over to the Senate for consideration in 2024, the Maine online casino bill would exclusively give tribes iGaming rights.
That iGaming exclusivity is what concerned him, said Chris Jackson. Jackson, an attorney with the law firm of Mitchell Tardy Jackson, was testifying on behalf of Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway Bangor.
Same, wrote Steve Silver, chairman of the Maine Gambling Control Board (GCB), in submitted testimony.
Maine absolutely should consider legalizing Internet Gaming (“iGaming”). It is my personal belief that adult Mainers should be free to enjoy legal, regulated gaming in all its forms. But I also believe that any qualified operator should have the ability to obtain an iGaming license including the Wabanaki Nations. Cutting out Oxford and Hollywood Casinos entirely from offering iGaming is ill-advised in my opinion.
Hollywood Casino’s Concerns
Jackson said LD1777, An Act to Create Economic Opportunity for Wabanaki Nations Through Internet Gaming, would cut into retail casino revenue.
He said Maine’s two land-based casinos showed there’s a “limited” amount of discretionary income available from gambling-age adults among the state’s 1.4 million residents.
For instance, when Oxford Casino Hotel opened seven years after the Bangor property debuted, the casino now owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) took 16% to 18% of the revenue Hollywood had been collecting, Jackson said.
In 2022, the total gross gaming revenue (GGR) generated by the two casinos was $165.1 million. That’s according to the gambling trade association American Gaming Association (AGA).
He noted Maine voters defeated several state and municipal gambling expansion efforts that showed their distaste for gambling expansion.
Jackson said of LD1777:
I don’t think the people of Maine would support this.
Bonus noted that voters approved a referendum allowing the Oxford casino to be built and for casinos to add slot machines.
Asked about Hollywood’s online casinos in other states, Jackson said his client didn’t dislike iGaming.
Our opposition is to the bill, as written.
Jackson testified about the Maine online casino bill:
We certainly would be opposed to the exclusivity portion of it.
Oxford Casino’s Concerns
Hickman asked CDI’s representative who online casino gamblers are. He wanted to know if they were different from gamblers at land-based casinos.
Daniel W. Walker, an attorney with Preti Flaherty, said it’s possible there’s a type of gambler who’s “antisocial” and doesn’t leave the house.
Retail casino gamblers leave their houses to venture onto gaming floors, he noted.
Meanwhile, Walker claimed legal online casino gambling would cut into the “finite” amount of discretionary income Maine residents have to gamble.
Bonus reported on CDI exiting the online casino space in 2022, shutting down its TwinSpires brand due to the inability to turn a profit.
The bill shows an internet gaming license will cost $200,000 and renewing it four years later is $40,000.
Just like the sportsbook tax rate, online casino operators will need to pay 10%.
The Maine online casino bill names the regulator as the Gambling Control Unit (GCU).
Silver had problems with all of the above. He said the GCB regulates casinos and should do so for iGaming. Also, he adds, the bill’s wording needs to change or even the Maine Lottery will have to operate second-chance sweepstakes on tribal land instead of online.
Silver wrote of the proposed 10% tax rate:
Casinos offer a variety of games from slots to table games like craps and roulette. The win rates vary substantially depending on the game. This is why Maine implemented a tiered taxation structure for casinos. Hollywood Casino pays a 40% tax on slot revenue and a 16% tax on table games. Oxford Casino pays a 46% tax on slot revenue and a 16% tax on table games. Yet, LD 1777 proposes a flat 10% tax with no differentiation between slots and table games. This is improper and irresponsible to the citizens of Maine who will lose out on the missed tax revenue.
Christian Civic League of Maine Says ‘No’
The only opposition testimony Bonus heard that didn’t bang away at the familiar trope of cannibalization was from Carroll Conley.
Conley, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, railed against gambling as a “regressive tax upon the poor.” He said LD1777 was “playing our fellow citizens for suckers.”
However, Conley didn’t finish his thoughts because Hickman called for the evacuation.