AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine House and Senate voted Friday to allow the Penobscot Indian Nation to operate 400 slot machines at its high-stakes bingo facility on Indian Island, but the bill faces an uncertain fate with a gubernatorial veto threatened.

The 101-38 House vote meets the two-thirds threshold that would be needed to override a veto. But the 20-15 Senate vote, while enough to advance the bill toward final approval, falls short of the supermajority that could be needed to override a veto.

The bill faces final votes in both chambers.

Gov. John Baldacci, who has called for a moratorium on gambling expansion in Maine, would not sign the bill into law if it reached his desk, a spokesman said.

“We do not support it,” said David Farmer. “He would veto it.”

Supporters are hoping to round up four more Senate votes that could be needed to override a veto, said Donna Loring, the Penobscots’ non-voting state representative.

“It’s an uphill battle,” Loring said after the Senate vote.

The Penobscots have said they need the slots in order to enable their own gambling operation to compete with Hollywood Slots, which is building an expanded Bangor casino that will have a voter-imposed limit of 1,500 slot machines. The new casino, near the Bangor Raceway at Bass Park, is expected to open next year.

The Penobscots also say they need revenues from their gaming operations to help support the tribe’s emergency and social services. The bill they support would effectively push the 1,500 limit to 1,900 slots statewide.

The bill had received the nearly unanimous endorsement of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, whose House chairman defended the legislation during debate Friday.

Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, said “one of the biggest selling points” of the Penobscots’ bill is that about 85 percent of those who come to Indian Island to gamble are from other states and Canada.

Others attacked arguments that the bill would exceed the statutory limit of 1,500 slot machines, saying the figure was not written into the 2003 citizen initiative that authorized the harness racing casinos, or racinos, in the first place.

“The limit is a bogus reason to be against this bill,” said Loring.

In the Senate, Cornville Republican Peter Mills urged a vote against the bill, saying expanded casino gambling is taking an increasing toll on off-track betting, games at charitable clubs and fairs.

“We have to draw the line somewhere,” said Mills.

Other gambling-related proposals are also in the works.

In April, lawmakers sustained Baldacci’s veto of a bill that would have allowed the Passamaquoddy Tribe to develop a racetrack-casino in eastern Maine.

The Legislature’s action sent the proposal to voters for a referendum in November. The Passamaquoddys envision a complex with 1,500 slot machines, as well as a hotel, conference center, restaurants and other amenities.

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

Activists seeking a referendum on legislation to outlaw slot machines did not succeed in getting their question on the 2007 ballot, but still maintain an organization, a leader said.

AP-ES-06-15-07 1619EDT


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