By David Sharp
PORTLAND, Maine — Three of the state’s biggest ski resorts are joining the effort to defeat a proposed casino in western Maine, saying a casino would detract from the state’s image as a family-friendly place to enjoy the outdoors.
Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Saddleback all announced their opposition to the casino on Wednesday. Sunday River is the only one in Oxford County, where the $150 million casino would be built if state voters give their approval on Nov. 4.
Pat LaMarche, casino campaign spokeswoman, said the ski resorts are opposed to the casino because its higher wages would siphon away ski resort workers. She chided Sunday River for giving money to Casinos No!, which is leading the fight against the casino.
“They’re going to make a financial contribution to keep Mainers from having good jobs,” LaMarche said Wednesday. “Shame on them.”
Dana Bullen, general manager of Sunday River, told workers in a memo that the casino would be incompatible with Maine’s “brand.”
“Maine is known for its rugged outdoor image, uncompromised natural beauty, family-friendly environment and Yankee originality,” he wrote. “There is a stark contrast between these attributes, for which Maine is known, and those associated with casino gambling.”
Warren Cook from Saddleback expressed a similar sentiment. “A gambling casino doesn’t play to our strengths, it preys on our weaknesses,” he said.
Both Sunday River and Sugarloaf USA are owned by Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, and Sunday River plans to contribute to the effort to defeat the casino. While Saddleback opposes the casino, it has no plan to put money into the effort, Cook said.
LaMarche accused the resorts of hypocrisy, saying there was no opposition to earlier attempts to win approval for a casino or slot machines because there was no impact on their workers. “So clearly this is not about Maine ‘branding,”’ LaMarche said.
The Olympia Group, the Las Vegas developer that wants to build the casino, issued a report on Tuesday that offered greater detail on the economic benefit of the Oxford Highlands Resort-Spa-Casino.
Olympia said previously that the average annual salary at the casino resort will be about $36,000. On Tuesday, the report indicated the resort casino would pay 68 percent more than the statewide average for Maine’s hotel and accommodations sector.
“The operation of a resort casino in Oxford County will not only improve employment levels in Oxford County, it will improve overall job quality in the traditionally low-wage, seasonal, and part-time leisure and hospitality sector,” the report said.
The report by Clyde W. Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, found that 1,277 jobs would be created during the construction phase, while the casino would employ 907 people when it was completed.
There would be another 592 jobs created by casino workers’ spending, and the state would receive $69 million in gambling revenue, the report said.
Dennis Bailey from Casinos NO! questioned the validity of the report. He said Barrow’s degree is in politics, not economics. “No reputable economist will argue that a gambling casino is a tool for economic development,” Bailey said.