For quite some time, Maine was regarded as something of a desert in the New England casino landscape, particularly given the visitor-drawing success of gambling in northeastern states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut. However, since the opening of the Hollywood Slots venue in 2004, a second casino now serves gambling in Maine, with at least one more to come possibly by decade’s end.
Population: 1.33 million (in 2014)
Area: 35,385 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 3*
• Leaving Christmas decorations up after January 14 is a punishable offense in Maine.
• In 1642, York became the first city incorporated in the U.S.
• 40 million pounds of lobster is caught annually off the Maine coast.
• Maine has more coastline than California.
Maine has a reputation for being even more puritanical than its southerly new England compadres on issues of vice such as gambling, and only recently has a little progressive action toward greater freedom for gamblers in the state been seen.
A few key moves before the late 2000s to ‘10s, when state referendums came up to vote on expansion of gambling laws in Maine went down in the 20th century: In 1950, the Scarborough Downs racetrack opened, soon becoming a tourist attraction for decades to come; ironically, Maine’s casinos today are propping up the equine industry in the state with taxes levied on profits.
Maine also got on board the state lottery craze of the 1970s-80s relatively early, starting up such a contest in the state in 1974. The Penobscot Bingo Hall opened in ’73 and is aid to be among the country’s first Native American-run gaming houses – and it’s still open today.
But while things appeared to moving forward quickly in Maine, no actual casinos would open in Maine until 2004. That year, the state’s Gambling Control Board ruled that a single casino could be opened in the state – though table games were disallowed for the venue. The Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway opened that same year. In 2010, a state referendum allowed for the opening of Oxford Casino, small venue in the town of the same name. The following year, referendums to allow two more racinos in the state and to allow a full-on casino in Lewiston were each crushed by upward of 30% of ballots.
At present (though this may change; see the “Future of Gambling in Maine” section below), there are three venues for gambling in Maine. As stated above, the Penobscot Bingo Hall still does brisk business with some high-stakes games and popular “weekend getaway packages” for New England residents – but no classic casino games.
The “Hollywood Slots,” as it’s known locally, and neighboring racetrack are still open; the Hollywood is truly a slot lover’s haven, with some 1,000 electronic slots, video poker and roulette games, plus table games and even a poker room. The Oxford Casino opened in 2012 and has earned a reputation as a great stop for the gamer in Maine with over 850 slot machines/video poker plus nine different table games, including relative novelties such as Spanish 21 and Baccarat.
Gambling age restrictions are pretty straightforward in Maine: You must be 21 to enter one of the state’s operating casinos. At 18 years of age, one may place bets at the state racetracks or buy lottery tickets legally.
Not only was Hannibal Hamlin’s perhaps the greatest statesman to ever represent Maine, he also takes the title of Maine’s all-time most prominent gambler. Though now subject to the vagaries of history, we today know that while Abraham Lincoln’s first vice-president was hardly an out-of-control gambler, the man certainly enjoyed his cards.
In fact, in the mostly gambling-free state of Maine, Hamlin was one of 31 founders of the very exclusive Tarrington Club in Bangor in 1884. Seven years later, after attending the club as a frequent guest (and card-player), Hamlin died at the table during what is thought to be a poker game.
Each casino or gaming establishment which opens in Maine is subject to individual rules and regulations defined by the Gaming Control Board, but these seem to be pretty standard. Even the Hollywood has been permitted to host table games and poker since its opening, when such games were not allowed.
The future of gambling in Maine appears to be at the whims of the state’s voters. Virtually every move in the gambling industry in Maine requires a vote of approval. As of this writing, a lobby group calling itself Horseracing Jobs Fairness is collecting signatures in hopes of getting a referendum on opening a casino in southern Maine in 2018, which would lead to a grand opening sometime in 2019 or ’20. The group has spent $4+ million as of January 2017 on petitioning efforts alone.
Those both pro and con cite as a talking point the developer Shawn Scott. Scott is a casino construction mogul who helped bring the Hollywood to Maine back in 2004, and is presumed to be the winner of any contract placing a casino outlet in the southern part of state – or anywhere in Maine, really.