Do you want to allow a certain Maine company to have the only casino in Maine, to be located in Oxford County, if part of the revenue is used to fund specific state programs?
With the lone exception of the Hollywood Slots facility in Bangor, Mainers have rejected casino and racino proposals when they have come before them for ballot approval. The latest such proposal, a full service gambling casino and resort in Oxford, should meet the same fate when it comes before voters on Nov. 4.
In uncertain economic times, when Maine and the nation face the prospect of a protracted recession, it might seem unwise not to welcome the promise of $100 million or more in outside investment, especially in a region of the state that has not flourished. But a casino is not economic development.
Like the gambling endeavors proposed for southern Maine and Calais, the Oxford proposal promises to devote a substantial portion of its revenue toward K-12 and post-secondary public education, expanding health care access, building an East-West highway, developing alternative fuels and the Land for Maine’s Future fund, among several others. But these sums pale in comparison to the money that will leave the state.
Olympia Gaming Maine, the Nevada-based company that took over the project from Oxford County lawyer Seth Carey, has donated over $500,000 to pass Question 2; betting that much money on the referendum’s passage should hint at what kinds of profits are in the offing for the company.
Most disconcerting is the terribly flawed law that Mr. Carey attached to the petition that put the question on the ballot. The law calls for lowering the gambling age from the current 21 to 19, lowering the age for working in the casino from 21 to 18, allowing the casino to extend credit to patrons, putting the president of the casino on the boards of gambling regulatory agencies and the more than 20 of the institutions that would benefit from the diverted revenue, and most cynical of all, enacting a 10-year moratorium on casinos in the state, thereby giving Olympia a monopoly.
Dean Harrold, vice-chairman of Olympia, has pledged to reverse most of the law’s provisions if the referendum passes. An affable man who knows the business, it’s easy to take him at his word. But once the law is up for amendment in the Legislature, anything could happen.
This is not a gamble Maine should take.