Maliseet drummers in Maine. Photo: Michael Buist

Tribes might finally get some help with gaming efforts in Maine

Thirty years after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, some tribes are still waiting to benefit from the $32 billion and growing industry.

Included are a handful based in Maine. Their efforts to open casinos have long been hampered by state officials, who believe federal land claim settlements prevent the tribes from offering slot machines, card games and related offerings.

But the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians might finally be getting some help on the issue. At the direction of the Maine House, the Supreme Judicial Court has been asked to answer an important question affecting the tribe's inherent rights.

That question, as laid out in House Order 72 reads:
"Does the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202 (1987) allow the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, a federally recognized Indian tribe, to conduct gambling on tribal trust land without permission to do so from the State?"

House Order 72 was sponsored by State Rep. Henry John Bear, who is a citizen of the Houlton Band. The bill passed by a vote of 70 to 54 on August 30.

Save the Date! The National Indian Gaming Commission will mark the 30th anniversary of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Regulatory Act at an event in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 2018.

Originally, Bear pushed for passage a broader bill that would have asked the Supreme Judicial Court to determine whether all "federally recognized Indian tribes" in Maine could engage in gaming on their homelands. But House Order 58 was killed in vote in April.

“We need jobs. We want to pay our own way,” Bear said during debate at the time, The Bangor Daily News reported. “That’s the simple response to the question to us of ‘why do you want to do it? Why do you want gaming?’”

According to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, tribes possess the inherent authority to legalize and regulate gaming on their own lands. A year after the decision, Congress enacted IGRA to provide a national framework for dealing with casinos in Indian Country.

The Houlton Band, however, falls under a land claim settlement which appears to bar the tribe from following IGRA -- or any other federal Indian law -- unless Congress specifically says so. The long and complicated passage from the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act follows:
The provisions of any Federal law enacted after October 10, 1980, for the benefit of Indians, Indian nations, or tribes or bands of Indians, which would affect or preempt the application of the laws of the State of Maine, including application of the laws of the State to lands owned by or held in trust for Indians, or Indian nations, tribes, or bands of Indians, as provided in this subchapter and the Maine Implementing Act, shall not apply within the State of Maine, unless such provision of such subsequently enacted Federal law is specifically made applicable within the State of Maine.

The state's interpretation of the language has prompted some tribes to ask the Maine Legislature for the approval to offer more than just bingo games. Lawmakers have repeatedly refused to take action.

Some tribes also have asked voters to authorize gaming projects. Those efforts also have failed even as voters have approved two non-Indian casinos in the state.

It's not clear when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will answer the gaming question. No one responded when The Associated Press asked for comment on the issue.

Read More on the Story
Maine House Asks Court Whether Tribe Could Run Casino (The Associated Press September 17, 2018)

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