AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of Bangor-area pastors will have to put their concerns in writing about the proposal by Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway to offer Sunday morning gambling, the Gambling Control Board ruled Wednesday.
“We have to follow the law,” said Peter Danton, acting chairman of the board. “There was a public hearing set, and nobody showed up to testify and no one filed comments either.”
Assistant Attorney General Lara Nomani cautioned the board that it had to follow the Maine Administrative Procedures Act that sets up the public hearing and public comment process that must be followed by all state agencies when they make rules.
“Because the public comment period has expired, absent further action by the board to allow further comments, comments cannot be allowed,” she said.
Nomani outlined the hearing and comment process established in state law and told the board it did not have to reopen the process and could vote to adopt the rule. Board members decide to allow a 21-day window for further written comments.
“We want to allow you people to have a say because you are interested in this issue,” Danton told the audience after the vote.
Under the current rules, Hollywood Slots does not open until noon Sundays, but opens at 8 a.m. every other day of the week. The board sent the rule change allowing the facility to open at 8 a.m. Sundays out to public comment at the October board meeting. That public hearing was held Nov. 25.
The early Sunday opening proposal has generated opposition, but too late to meet the comment periods allowed by law. The Rev. Jerry Mick, pastor of Bangor Baptist Church and president of the Maine Family Policy Council, formerly the Christian Civic League of Maine, had hoped to address the board on Wednesday but was told he would have to file his comments in writing.
CasinosNO!, a group that has been fighting gambling expansion in Maine, sent the board a letter opposing the rule change.
“Expanding the casino’s operating hours on Sunday might make it more convenient for some people to gamble who otherwise would not,” executive director Dennis Bailey wrote. “But, it is doubtful that it would have a significant impact on overall revenues.”
At October’s board meeting, Hollywood Slots General Manager Jon Johnson estimated the company could make an additional $700,000 to $1 million a year in the extra four hours of gambling on Sundays. He estimated changing the rule would generate additional revenue for the state of between $350,000 and $500,000 a year.
He said the addition of the hotel meant there are guests in the facility who want to play the slots in the morning, and not wait for the noon opening.
The board did discuss revenues at the facility and the decline in revenue since the new facility opened in July.
Scott Woods, the board’s auditor, said there has been a downward trend since the high in July of just under $6.3 million in net revenue. In November, that had slipped to just under $4.3 million in net revenue.
“It’s the economy and now the season,” he said. “People instead of going to the slot machines I think they are putting it into heat and trying to stay warm for the winter.”
Woods said if history is any guide, revenues will pick up after Christmas and said there is usually a peak around New Year’s Day.
Last month Hollywood Slots changed its hours from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. Monday through Saturday to 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Board approval was not needed because those changes are within the overall hours of operation already authorized.
The only two days of the year when the facility must be closed are Christmas and Easter.