Hopefully, one year from now, voters will again be asked to consider expanding casino gaming in Maine.
As spokesman for Black Bear Entertainment, the new group proposing a resort casino in Oxford County, I want to offer an overview of the project and our hopes for the next 12 months and why this group represents the best chance for success, where others have failed.
It begins with a well-written bill and a superb group of Maine businesspeople.
Black Bear Entertainment is composed of Steven Barber, the former CEO of Barber Foods; Jim Bolderbook, founder of Creative Broadcast Concepts in Biddeford; Rupert and Susan Grover, owners of Grover Gundrilling in Norway, and Rob Lally, part owner of Mount Abram ski area. They are collaborating to bring a four-season resort to Oxford County with the hopes of starting an economic resurgence in the area, while providing a first-class destination resort for guests from all over the country.
This resort could have been located anywhere in the state. Southern Maine would certainly have offered the greatest profit potential, due to the proximity to the population base of northern New England, but this group chose to come back to Oxford County.
As successful businesspeople, Black Bear Entertainment understands if you’re not profitable, you can’t succeed, but thought locating the resort in an area that offered the most potential for economic stimulus, in regard to jobs and growth, was very important. So Oxford County again was chosen.
The county’s current unemployment rate that tops 11 percent is almost double that of last year. Business closures continue regularly and manufacturing jobs continue to evaporate and are not being replaced. Maine is a tourism state, and tourism is our No. 1 economic revenue source.
We want to promote Maine and this resort will do just that. Some argue casinos aren’t the jobs we want, but they can’t say why. We should be proud of our service industry jobs. Our resort will offer benefits, and the jobs will average almost $35,000 in annual income.
I defy anyone to look an unemployed worker in the eye anywhere in Maine and tell them $35,000 with benefits is beneath their skill level and should be rejected. Anyone making that argument obviously doesn’t know what it is like waiting for an unemployment check, cashing food stamps or not taking prescriptions because they cannot afford it. And Maine residents will be given priority for our jobs.
Not only does Black Bear Entertainment want to make a commitment to economic growth to Oxford County, but it also wants the project to have an impact on every Maine resident and community. Our polling confirmed our belief that most of the taxable revenue from the casino should be directed into Maine schools.
We will send more than 70 percent of our taxable revenue to kindergarten through grade 12 programs and University of Maine and community college scholarships funds, at an amount of nearly $32 million annually. Essential school programs for K-12 education will receive $25 million yearly to help preserve essentials for our children, as well as teacher salaries. Having an educated and well-equipped work force is our only hope of economic survival.
Our polling also suggests Maine’s Native American tribes should benefit from gaming, so we have directed a projected $4 million annually to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian nations.
I will never say our resort will be the answer to all of Maine’s economic problems. I will say, without question, that Oxford County, its residents and all of Maine will benefit from the resort in various ways.
I ask those skeptical about casinos to look to Bangor and Hollywood Slots, and the outstanding addition that project has been to the community and Maine. None of the gloom and doom predictions from casino opponents has come true.
All we ask of residents is to keep an open mind, ask questions and look beyond the fear tactics of the opposition. Those fear tactics haven’t produced one job, but have likely kept hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue away from our state over the past 10 years.
We look forward to the next 12 months, as we tell the good people of Maine about our resort and our vision of hope and opportunity, not only to Oxford County, but to our whole state.
Peter Martin of Winslow is spokesman for Black Bear Entertainment, which is seeking to build a resort casino in Oxford County.