GOP protests dual state board roles

Posted Aug. 19, 2009, at 8:35 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Former state Sen. Peter Danton, D-Saco, was recommended on party-line votes of 6-4 to continue to serve on both the state Liquor and Lottery Commission and the state Gambling Control Board despite GOP objections that the dual role is a conflict of interest.

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, a member of the Legislature’s Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, on Wednesday questioned Danton about what she described as an inherent conflict of interest in serving on both boards.

She said Liquor and Lottery Commission Executive Director Dan Gwadosky in both his annual report to the Legislature and in testimony earlier this year, said that lottery sales in the Bangor area have gone down as business at Hollywood Slots has increased.

“Do you not think that shows a conflict of interest, an appearance of a conflict of interest?” Plowman asked Danton.

“No, I don’t think so, because one is a state game and the other is private, a private business,” he said.

Danton said the Gambling Control Board is a regulatory agency that oversees the state’s only gambling facility, Hollywood Slots, and that is licensed to a private company to operate. He said that is a very different role from the oversight role at the state lottery, and he told lawmakers there are many competitors for gambling dollars.

“I don’t see it as the lottery and the racino only going for it. I see the beano and racing and all the other gambling out there going for the gambling dollar,” he said.

Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, another member of the committee, testified in support of Damon’s nomination to both posts. She disagreed there is a conflict in serving on both boards and said there is a benefit to having a person serve on both.

“There is no statute that prevents any person from serving on two,” she said. “If anyone has a problem with someone serving on more than one committee, they should put in legislation to stop that.”

Valentino said there are several instances in which a person serves on more than one state board. For example, George McHale serves as chairman of the Gambling Control Board and as chairman of the state Harness Racing Commission.

Other Democrats on the committee also supported Danton and said there is no conflict in serving on the two panels.

But GOP lawmakers disagreed. They argued the Liquor and Lottery Commission involves itself in great detail on the design of lottery games, the advertising strategy and even the placing of lottery terminals in stores. They said Danton, no matter how hard he tries, cannot avoid the appearance of a conflict as he sits on the over-sight boards of two competing gambling entities.

“I believe that Mr. Danton is extremely well-qualified for either of the positions he is going for,” said Rep. Wright Pinkham, R-Lexington Township. “I would be happy to vote for either one of them, but I will be voting nay because he has chosen not to give up one of them.”

Rep. Pamela Trinward, D-Waterville, the House co-chairwoman of the committee, said that Danton did a good job arguing there is no conflict and that he would recuse himself from any situation in which a conflict might arise.

She said the GOP concern really goes to how Maine regulates gambling through several boards and commissions. The state police also oversee some types of gambling.

“At some point should we be reviewing all of that and considering just one gambling board? Absolutely,” She said. “But, that is a huge undertaking.”

Trinward said the piecemeal oversight has evolved for years and she believes any attempt to merge state regulation of all gambling under a single board or agency will take time and a lot of effort to accomplish.

Under the state constitution, it would take a two-thirds vote of the state Senate to overturn the committee’s recommendation on Danton. The Senate meets Monday to consider several nominations.

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