AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Gambling Control Board is expected to approve a request from Penn National Gaming Inc. to allow Sunday morning hours at Bangor’s Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway despite the protestations of some local clergy members.
At a meeting Wednesday in Augusta, board members discussed the schedule change that was first brought to them by Penn National last October. Although they did not vote, all four board members agreed that there is no basis to deny the request.
“We came to the decision that there was no overriding harm that would be done by allowing expansion,” said chairman George McHale.
An official decision will be made at the gambling board’s next meeting on Feb. 11.
The Rev. Jerry Mick, pastor of Bangor Baptist Church and president of the Maine Family Policy Council, had led a group of opponents against the proposal, claiming that Sunday morning hours infringed on a sacred time for families.
“It’s disappointing, but I’ve come to the point in my life where there isn’t anything that upsets me,” he said. “It’s a money issue and we understand, but we feel that this isn’t good for Bangor.”
Penn National, the Pennsylvania company that owns and operates Maine’s only gaming facility, asked the Maine Gambling Control Board late last year to allow Hollywood Slots to open at 8 a.m. Sundays instead of noon. It claimed that those four weekend morning hours could generate as much as $1 million in revenue for the state.
Currently, Hollywood Slots opens at 8 a.m. every day except Sunday. Late last year, Penn National agreed to alter its Monday through Saturday hours from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. to save money. Now the facility closes at 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Aside from the financial considerations, Hollywood Slots General Manager Jon Johnson said the main reason for allowing Sunday morning hours was to accommodate guests who were staying in the hotel.
Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNO!, a state lobbying group that opposes gambling, shared Mick’s disappointment in the board’s expected decision.
“I think it’s a wrong time for them to be expanding hours,” Bailey said, referring to a decrease in revenue from gambling companies nationwide. “I’m not sure it will make much of a difference.”
Before Wednesday’s discussion, gambling control board members were presented with the latest grim revenue figures from Hollywood Slots, which indicated about $44 million was generated in December. While that number is about $4 million higher than December 2007, Bailey pointed out that the 2007 total was when Holly-wood Slots operated at its temporary and much smaller facility.
He also noted that net revenues from Hollywood Slots, or the amount leftover after player payouts, have dropped from $6.3 million last July to $3.5 million last month.
While Bailey said the numbers are an ominous sign that Hollywood Slots does not have long-term viability, McHale countered that all industries are struggling right now.
Mick said he’s concerned that the poor economy is going to send more people to gambling facilities.
“During a recession, people look to make money quick,” he said. “These extra hours could only make matters worse.”
Even if that’s true, McHale said the economic considerations for increasing hours far outweighed any moral concerns by the religious community.
“There was no support for declaring [Sunday] a special day, that’s not government’s job,” he said. “I appreciate what the ministers were saying, but their argument was basically that they didn’t like gambling and that they wanted to declare Sunday a special day.”
Mick, however, argued that government already calls some religious days special, specifically Christmas and Easter. Incidentally, those are the only two days of the year that Hollywood Slots is not open. Why not Sunday, Mick said.
“They are not being honest,” the pastor said of gambling control board members. “Whether people buy into it or not, we are mostly a Christian nation.”