Penobscots press case for slots on Indian Island 5-16-07

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Leaders of the Penobscot Indian Nation pressed their case Wednesday for legislation to permit them to operate 400 slot machines during high-stakes bingo games on their reservation on Indian Island, saying it's “a necessity for us.”

A bill that has received an 11-1 vote of support from the Legal and Veterans Affairs would authorize the slots. As amended, it increases the state's take from the machines so they are more in line with percentages paid by Penn National's Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

Penn National plans to replace its current facility, which has 475 slot machines, with a permanent entertainment complex with 1,000 slots and a potential for up to 1,500.

The Penobscots said their legislation would do more than help them to compete with Hollywood Slots.

Donna Loring, the Penobscots' nonvoting legislative delegate, said it would restore a form of gambling that was allowed until the early 1980s when it was shut down under provisions of the Indian Land Claims Settlement Act.

The tribe needs revenue from the slots to pay for its programs and balance its budget, Loring said.

“This bill is about tribal needs, not wants,” said Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis. “This is really a necessity for us.”

Even though Gov. John Baldacci has told her he would veto the bill, Loring said she hopes to draw sufficient support in the House and Senate to override that action. With three proposals for new gambling operations, Baldacci has called for a moratorium on new casinos in Maine.

Baldacci vetoed initiated legislation this session to allow the Passamaquoddy Tribe to build and operate a harness racing track and resort with slot machines in Washington County. The proposal will now have to be decided by voters.

A Rumford-based group launched a campaign last year to collect signatures to force a statewide referendum to allow a casino in Oxford County.