Pastors fight change to Hollywood Slots’ Sunday hours

Posted Dec. 09, 2008, at 8:33 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A group of local pastors plans to attend a meeting of the Gambling Control Board in Augusta Wednesday, Dec. 10 to oppose a proposal by Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway to offer Sunday morning gambling.

Under the current rules, the facility at 500 Main St. does not open until noon Sundays, but opens at 8 a.m. every other day of the week.

At its October meeting, the five-member board gave initial approval to change the hours of operation on Sundays.

“In talking to numerous pastors, the consensus was that Sunday morning should be the Lord’s day,” the Rev. Jerry Mick, pastor of Bangor Baptist Church, said Tuesday. “It’s a sacred time. Most [Christians] in America who attend worship services worship on Sunday morning.”

At least half a dozen ministers, Mick said, will speak against the plan to change the facility’s hours of operation from noon-1 a.m. to 8-1 a.m. Sundays.

George McHale, chairman of the board, declined Tuesday to comment on the pastors’ concern, because he will not be able to attend the meeting. Efforts to reach Executive Director Robert Welch were unsuccessful Tuesday.

On Nov. 1 Hollywood Slots changed its hours from 8-4 a.m. Monday through Saturday to 8-1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 8-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

The facility did not need the board’s OK to change those hours, because they fell within the state-authorized hours of operation.

The request to add Sunday morning hours is part of the company’s ongoing efforts to fine-tune operations, Hollywood Slots General Manager Jon Johnson told the board in October, according to a story previously published in the Bangor Daily News.

Johnson estimated in October that the company could lose $700,000 to $1 million annually in potential revenues because it is closed Sunday mornings. He said the state portion of that in the form of taxes totaled potential losses of between $350,000 and $500,000.

“If Hollywood Slots is not doing well financially, it’s because Maine people don’t have money,” Mick said Tuesday. “Now they want to be open on the day of worship to get the poor people of Maine to spend more money they don’t have during a time when I don’t think they should be gambling.”

The minister, who also is president of the Maine Family Policy Council, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine, said Hollywood Slots was fighting against one of the greatest support systems of people struggling with a gambling addiction — local pastors.

“Pastors are cleaning up broken families,” he said Tuesday. “I can tell the [Gambling Control] board that I have seen face to face in a negative way the results of Hollywood Slots being in Bangor. I’ve had people come see me who had never been in a casino but were lured into the facility and thought they’d try it become addicted. They and their families have suffered enormous losses financially, relationally and at work.”

Mick said the fact that a majority of voters on Election Day rejected a referendum to allow a casino in Oxford County was an indication of how most state residents view gambling.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland does not plan to oppose the proposed change in Sunday hours, spokesman Marc Mutty said Tuesday.

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

Hollywood Slots is closed on Christmas and Easter. There are no plans to open the facility on those days.

The meeting of the Gambling Control Board will be held at 12:30 p.m. today at the Public Safety Building, 45 Commerce Drive, Augusta. The meeting will be audio-streamed over the Internet at www.state.me.us/dps/GambBoard</a>.

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