Penobscots ask OK for slots on Indian Island 4-9-07

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Representatives of the Penobscot Indian Nation asked Maine lawmakers Monday to allow them to operate 400 slot machines during high-stakes bingo games on their reservation on Indian Island, saying they need to compete with Bangor's Hollywood Slots.

Rep. Donna Loring, the Penobscots' nonvoting legislative delegate, said the tribe has lost business in its gaming operations since Penn National Gaming Inc.'s Hollywood Slots slot machine facility opened in November 2005.

``We simply need to be able to compete with Hollywood Slots,'' Loring said. ``Our community is in immediate need.''

The proposal before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee faces opposition by Gov. John Baldacci's administration and city of Bangor, both of which have called for a moratorium on new gambling operations.

It also surfaced as the House and Senate prepare to debate separate legislation to allow the Passamaquoddy tribe to operate a destination resort-racino with as many as 1,500 slot machines in Washington County. If it fails, the initiated proposal will go to voters in November.

The Penobscots on Monday said revenues from their gaming operations have long supported, with federal help, the tribe's emergency and social services. But they said betting income has slackened since Hollywood Slots opened.

Penn National plans to replace its current facility in Bangor, which has 475 slot machines, with a permanent entertainment complex with 1,000 slots and a potential for up to 1,500. Construction is scheduled to be completed in mid-2008.

Penobscot leaders contend that the 1,500 slots would still be well below the 3,000 allowed statewide under a 2003 law approved by Maine voters. Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis said the 400 machines requested would make up only part of the difference, adding, ``We do not consider this an expansion of gaming.''

Penobscot leaders also noted that they operated slots on Indian Island as recently as the 1970s, but lost that right when an Indian land claims settlement placed them under state jurisdiction. The Penobscot Nation ``is just requesting that our gaming rights be restored,'' Francis said.

Under its bill, the Indian Island slots would be subject to regulation by the Maine Gambling Control Board, and 1 percent of gross slot machine income would go to the state's general fund.

The gambling regulatory board's executive director, Robert Welch, said the board voted last August in favor of a moratorium on new gaming operations to allow time to see how well the present operations fare.

Welch also said that allowing slots on Indian Island would violate limits in the 2003 racino law in several respects. For example, he said, it would bypass a local referendum process.

Bangor Mayor Richard Greene said the city has also called for a moratorium. He said that allowing the Indian Island slots would reduce the potential number of slot machines at Hollywood Slots, and that could undermine its operation.