Black Bear Entertainment LLC is trying to bring a four-season resort casino to Oxford. Many people across Maine and particularly in the Penobscot County region were disappointed when the state Legislature turned down the request of Black Bear, Penn National Gaming Inc. and the Passamaquoddy Tribe to create a measure that would have expanded gambling to all three.
Black Bear Entertainment worked hard for passage of the measure and will now campaign vigorously and throughout the state for the passage of the Oxford referendum.
When we were approached about putting the competing measure together we were skeptical, but not because we did not want to work with Penn National (owner of Hollywood Slots in Bangor) or the tribes, because we obviously did, but because the history of competing measures in Maine has had a poor rate of success.
Since 1911, there have been seven competing measures introduced by the Legislature, only after careful scrutiny and thoughtful consideration. The math of a competing measure does not lend itself to winning because the “yes” votes invariably get split and in turn create runoffs that more than likely lead to a loss.
We consulted professional researchers and media specialists. The data and feedback all pointed to the difficulty of being successful with the combination of a gaming issue and a competing measure. The confusion factor in the public arena and the opposition claiming we were now trying to establish three casinos in Maine remained as the biggest challenges.
Against the advice of some of the professionals we consulted, we entered into the competing measure arrangement and gave it our best effort. But all is not lost. Some people are angry about the decision of the Legislature and we understand that. Some people say if we can’t help the tribes and Penn National then why should anyone else have one? Black Bear Entertainment completely understands the emotional response but is it the correct response?
Clearly the Legislature wanted to help Penn National and the tribes, but many legislators had problems with the action of inserting a competing measure that would have been hastily crafted. More importantly, they were concerned about subverting the will of the 105,000 folks who signed the Oxford petition. As I talked with many legislators, it became obvious it was not an unwillingness to help the tribes or Penn National, but more about respecting the sanctity of the citizen initiative process.
I believe more then ever the emotional response of saying “if we can’t have ours they can’t have theirs” is a mistake. The correct and big picture response would be let’s not try to defeat Oxford, but let’s help it pass.
I am convinced, as are many legislators, that if Oxford wins it will clear the path for both the tribes’ entry into gaming and Hollywood Slots having table games. We support it and will introduce the legislation ourselves to make it happen. However, I am equally convinced that if Oxford loses, the Legislature will shut the door on gaming expansion and the hopes of the tribes and Penn National will be defeated. I have heard this from many legislators over and over.
Some people have asked why the referendum was written without including the tribes or Penn National. The answer is simple. Gaming referendums are strategically written to avoid giving multiple targets for the opposition to go after. Had we written legislation that sought to include the tribes and Penn National, we would have drawn the deception-filled wrath of gaming opposition all over Maine. We chose the conservative route.
Black Bear Entertainment pledges and commits to the people of this region and beyond that if Oxford passes will we fight arm and arm with Penn National and the tribes in their quest for table games and tribal gaming rights. Our public statements and legislative efforts of the past months proves our intent, commitment and goodwill to make it happen.
The Oxford referendum is a good bill. The proposal would provide more than 800 jobs in a county almost exactly in the same economic distress as Washington County. It will send over an estimated $32 million a year to our educational system with most directed to kindergarten through the 12th grade, thereby helping every municipality in Maine. It helps our beleaguered Maine dairy farmers and it will send an estimated $4 million a year to the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes.
We are prepared to fight for you and all we ask is that you keep an open mind by supporting us, and together we will all win in the end.
Peter Martin is the spokesman for Black Bear Entertainment.