Racino seeks hours for Sunday gaming

Posted Oct. 23, 2008, at 9:39 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Gambling Control Board gave its initial approval Thursday to a request by Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway in Bangor to offer Sunday morning gaming.

The five-member board will now hold a public hearing and gather comments before making a final decision, expected to take place during its next regular meeting on Dec. 10, according to Robert Welch, the board’s executive director.

The public hearing has yet to be scheduled, but will be advertised in daily newspapers when a time and date has been set.

The request to add Sunday morning gaming hours is part of the company’s ongoing effort to fine-tune operations at its new gaming and hotel venue with its 1,000 slot machines, Hollywood Slots General Manager Jon Johnson said during Thursday’s meeting.

Johnson estimated that the company could lose between $700,000 and $1 million annually in potential revenues because it cannot offer gaming Sunday mornings. He pegged the potential losses for the state, which collects about half of the company’s gaming revenues in the form of taxes, at between $350,000 and $500,000 a year.

As it stands, state statutes governing slots allow Hollywood Slots to operate its machines from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily with the exception of Sundays, when the authorized start time is at noon. The only days that the facility at 500 Main Street in Bangor cannot offer gaming are Easter and Christmas. The request to amend Sunday hours would make the state-authorized operating hours consistent Monday through Sunday, gaming officials noted.

Hollywood Slots has been offering gaming until 4 a.m. daily since moving on July 1 to its new complex. But Johnson said Thursday that there are too few patrons playing slots after 1 a.m. to warrant the cost of staffing the gaming floor after that hour.

Consequently, the company plans to change its closing time to 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, effective on Nov. 1, Johnson said. Those changes don’t require the state’s permission because they fall within state-authorized operating hours, Welch confirmed after Thursday’s meeting.

But the proposal to authorize four additional hours on Sunday mornings from 8 a.m. to noon does have to go through the rule-making process because those hours currently are not authorized under the state’s slots rules.

During Thursday’s meeting, Johnson said that the addition of a hotel to the company’s Bangor lineup has changed its business model in that Hollywood Slots now has patrons at its facility who want to play slots after breakfast on Sundays.

Now, he said, those patrons either must “wait until noon or they leave.”

Neither Welch nor board Chairman George McHale thought the request for Sunday morning operators would generate much controversy. Most of the rule changes that have been made since the company initially opened its interim facility at the former Miller’s Restaurant down the street in November 2005 have drawn no public comment or opposition.

The exception, Welch and McHale noted after the meeting, involved the potential placement of ATMs within the facility. As a result of public concern, cash machines aren’t allowed on the gaming floor at Hollywood Slots.

McHale said the request to operate slots on Sunday mornings was a “reasonable” one.

“We have no reason to run their business. They decide what their hours are going to be within the parameters we set,” McHale said.

How the request will play out among Maine churchgoers remains to be seen.

Though at least one group, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, doesn’t plan to oppose it, Marc Mutty, a lobbyist for the diocese, expressed concern that the measure, if approved, could cut into time Mainers might otherwise spend involved in worship, reflection or family activities.

“It’s not something that we favor, but we certainly don’t want to dictate what businesses do,” Mutty said.

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