Maine gambling revenues take a hit during downturn

Posted Jan. 21, 2009, at 12:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers are learning that revenues from gambling are no sure bet during the economic downturn.

As the gambling industry takes a hit during the recession, so are Maine’s tax collections from lottery games and casino gambling at Hollywood Slots in Bangor, the state’s only casino.

Maine last year took in about $23 million in revenues from the casino, a figure that fell below projections and could drop by another $3 million by the end of the 2009 fiscal year in June.

Although Hollywood Slots more than doubled the number of slot machines, from 475 to 1,000, when it opened its new facility in July, the amount bet in those machines has gone up only slightly. Gross revenues, the amount wagered, were $44.4 million in December, down from a peak of $75.5 million in July.

Casino manager Jon Johnson said he’s not anticipating any real turnaround until after 2009.

“As the economy has worsened, it has negatively impacted everyone,” he said. “The gaming industry across the entire U.S., including Europe, everyone has seen a decline in numbers.”

Maine’s lottery operations are also feeling the pinch.

Maine State Lottery Director Dan Gwadosky doesn’t know whether the state will meet the $52 million in projected revenues from its scratch ticket and electronic games when the fiscal year ends. He says there’s been a “softening” of ticket sales for a year and a half.

“For the first two quarters of this fiscal year, we’ve continued to see a bit of an erosion on the instant ticket side, and I think it’s a reflection of the national economy,” Gwadosky said. “Our stores are telling us that they’re seeing fewer and fewer customers in the stores, and to the extent that people don’t have an extra dollar or two in their pocket, they’re unlikely to spend money on the lottery.”

Gambling revenues are among the things under review as lawmakers work to deal with the state budget shortfall.

Members of the Appropriations Committee are expected to finish their review of state revenues and spending Friday.

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