Casino bill killed by Legislature

Joseph Cyr, Special to The County
10 years ago

    HOULTON, Maine — A plan by the Houlton Band of Maliseets to build a casino in the Shiretown was halted by the Maine Legislature last week when the Senate effectively killed the bill.
    By a vote of 13 ‘yes’ and 22 ‘no’ the measure failed in the Senate, ending all possibilities of a casino for Houlton, at least until the next legislative session.

    Sen. Troy Jackson voted in favor of the bill, while Sen. Roger Sherman opposed it.

    Attempts to reach Houlton Band of Maliseet Tribal Chief Brenda Commander for comments were not successful by presstime.

    On March 19 the Senate postponed the bill indefinitely by a vote of 19-15. However, on March 29, the House of Representatives tried to revive the Houlton casino bill — as well as a bill for high-stakes beano games — when it voted to “insist” that the Senate pass the bills.

    Sen. Sherman said Monday that he voted against the bill because of too many questions surrounding the legality of the situation.

    Rep. Henry Bear, the bill’s sponsor, said he felt it was illegal to prevent the Maliseets from building a casino in Aroostook County.

    “The Maine Senate should have obeyed the law or, at least, followed the law as a guide and voted today to pass LD 1298 when they had the chance to significantly benefit the state of Maine, Aroostook County and the people of Houlton from a share of our Maliseet tribal casino,” Bear said. “It would have created much needed jobs in Aroostook County and brought in new gaming monies from Canadian consumers into Maine that will now not occur without further, unnecessary struggle unfortunately.”

    “As everyone in Aroostook County already knows and accepts, Maliseets are gambling people,” he continued. “It’s time that all members of the Maine Senate and the rest of Maine accepts this fact too. Simply put, Maliseets refuse to be a bunch of Maine welfare cases. Maine can no longer afford it, and neither can we.”

    According to Bear, denying the Maliseets the right to put a casino bill at least to a public referendum violates California’s Indian Financing Act of 1974.

    “Under that act, the Secretary of the Interior has made grants to federally recognized tribes and has guaranteed loans for the purpose of constructing gaming facilities,” he said.

    Sherman said Bear’s mentioning of the Indian Financing Act prompted Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to join the conversation and rather than get into a battle with lawyers, the Legislature ultimately decided to vote down all of the proposals for the current session.

    Sherman said he recognized how some may view the project as an economic development for the tribe and southern Aroostook County in general, there were too many questions lingering for him to vote in favor of it.

    “It’s unfortunate, but what needs to happen is we need to sit down and decide what the state wants out of gambling,” Sherman said. “I know the Maliseets are upset. I assume they will come back on this, and get the legal issue straightened out as to whether the California case actually applies. Then we can go from there.”