Maine State Poker and Betting – Laws and History


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Maine Examining Online Gambling Legislation With A Cautious Eye

Maine state sealMaine, long known for its breathtaking, sailboat-filled coastline, its world-class seafood, and a hardworking population with a quiet tolerance for gambling, is finding itself in the same boat as many other states after the Department of Justice’s change of heart on the Federal Wire Act of 1961.

In December 2011, the DOJ ruled that the Wire Act applied to sports betting only, paving the way for states to explore the regulation of online gambling. And while Maine currently has laws permitting charitable gambling, pari-mutuel betting, casinos, racetracks, and a state lottery, lawmakers are taking a cautious approach toward the possibility of online gambling regulations.

Tim Poulin, acting director of the Maine State Lottery, said the potential effects online gambling might have on the lottery are under examination, but he did say there were no plans to offer online lottery ticket sales at this time. Senators Nichi Farnham and Mike Carey both serve on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, and both agree that adding online gambling to current legislative discussions is an important step that would help the state get a jump on the issue, so Maine isn’t caught playing “catch-up.” Farnham said that Nevada, the first state to legalize online poker in December 2011, was “giving us the motivation now to get something in place so that when, or if, this comes to Maine we have regulations in front of us.” Carey agreed, saying it was important for legislators to do their homework so that when the matter came up in session, they would be ready. However, Carey also said the legislature would likely wait and watch how other states proceed on Internet gambling as a way to avoid any unexpected setbacks.[1]

The Maine legislature’s most recent move dealing with gambling came in April of 2012 when the House approved a bill that would allow up to five “video gambling machines” in non-profit organizations such as VFW posts and fraternal organizations.[2] Each establishment would pay a $1,000 application fee and an annual $350 fee. The State Gambling Control Board will oversee all operations, just as it does for casinos. The legislation calls for up to 100 machines to be installed by the fall of 2013 and about 150 more the next year. The Gaming Control Board would receive 10 percent of the revenue generated by the slots, 8% would go to the Maine general fund, 10 percent to each town that will have the machines, and 2% to the prevention and treatment of gambling addiction. Each respective non-profit organization would receive the remainder. The Senate also passed the measure.[3]

Maine’s Gambling History All-Encompassing

One of Maine’s state nicknames is Vacationland, and since 1950 there has been some form of legal gambling for vacationers in Maine to enjoy. Visitors and residents alike have been placing their bets at Scarborough Downs Harness Race Track since its opening 62 years ago in the Southern Maine town of Scarborough. With its close proximity to beaches and to Portland, Maine’s largest city, Scarborough Downs quickly became a prime location for recreation. The track was first operated as a thoroughbred venue, but it became exclusively a harness racing track by the 1970s. Today, it has the distinction of being the fastest track in New England. In addition to the racing and betting action at Scarborough Downs, annual county and state fairs across the state also offer pari-mutuel betting on harness races.[4]

The Penobscot Tribe has been offering high stakes bingo from Indian Island in Maine since 1973, making it one of the oldest commercial gaming establishments on an Indian reservation in the United States. In fact, the Penobscot Tribe had been operating the game fifteen years before Congress passed the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. High stakes bingo games are conducted on weekends every six weeks, and single-game winnings can add up to as much as $2,500 or more, with total prizes amassing $250,000 by the end of the weekend. In addition to bingo, players can try their luck at pull-tabs, coin boards and special “mystery” games, which offer winners trips to various locations all over the world.[5]

Almost as old as the Penobscot Tribe’s high stakes bingo is the Maine State Lottery. Established in 1973 when Maine voters overwhelmingly approved it, the first Maine State Lottery numbers were drawn on June 24, 1974. Interestingly enough, the prize was $20, and the numbers were drawn from a gumball machine. By October 1974, more games were added to the lottery, including the weekly game “Play Me,” which boasted a jackpot of $150,000. Play Me ended in early 1975, only to be replaced by “Downeast Sweepstakes.” In June 1975, “Great Outdoors,” the lottery’s first instant ticket, began. Two months later, the game had a $500,000 prize winner. In April 1985, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont became the first states to participate in a multi-state lottery, the Tri-State Compact. Additional games were added in the next seven years, including the popular “Megabucks” and Tri-State “Cash 5”.[6]

In 1992, the Maine Legislature created the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO), which oversees all lottery operations to this day. Winners have collected more than $2.2 billion in prize money since the lottery began. The Maine State General Fund has received more than $1 billion. In 2011, approximately 1,300 retail agents received $14 million, or $10,854 per retailer.[7]

oxford casino maine

Maine is also now home to two casinos: Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway in Bangor[8] and Oxford Casino in Oxford. Hollywood Casino began life as Hollywood Slots & Raceway in 2006, offering Maine residents and tourists in Bangor more than 1,000 slot machines. Hollywood Slots became Hollywood Casino March 1, 2012, and table games were first offered March 16, 2012.[9] The casino now offers slots, harness racing and Vegas-style table games. Oxford Casino opened in early June 2012. It also offers table games and slots to residents and tourists of the Pine Tree State.[10]

Cautious Approach To Online Gambling May Serve Maine Well

While a handful of states have spent parts of the 2012 legislative sessions wrangling over the feasibility of online gambling legislation, Maine’s wait-and-see attitude may just save the state unnecessary time and money. Legislators seem content for now to watch the actions of their fellow politicians in states such as New Jersey, Illinois, California and Delaware to see how proposed online gambling measures shape up. If legislation passes in some of those states, as it has in Nevada, it isn’t unreasonable for Maine residents to expect that their lawmakers will examine the issue of online gambling with a more serious eye and, perhaps more importantly, avoid potential pitfalls brought to light by other states’ miscues in being the first states to tread new waters. Maine’s gamble to wait on online gambling legislation may have a larger payout in the end.

External Sources

[1] Maine to proceed slowly with online gambling legislation – LegalPokerSites.com
[2] Maine State legislatures approves legalized gambling for no profit organizations by the Maine Sun Journal
[3] maine House Endorses Slots For Non Profits – by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network
[4] Gambling entertainment in the State of Maine – eTravelMaine.com
[5] Penobscot Tribe Bingo by PenobscotBingo.com
[6] The history of the Maine Lottery
[7] How the money taken from the Maine Lottery is distributed
[8] About the Hollywood Casino in Bangor
[9] Hollywood Slots becomes Hollywood Casino by the Bangor Daily News
[10] Oxford Casino Maine Website – OxfordCasino.com