Win or lose, the Oxford County casino will not be the last time we see such proposals in Maine. Each time we’ve voted on casino gambling, the law was written by casino backers — to their advantage. And each time, critics are correct in calling part of the law “flawed.”
The Legislature could end this uncertainty by showing leadership in crafting a set of standards that any proposal must meet. When the next would-be casino developers pitch their plan, it would have to meet these standards. A referendum vote would only be scheduled if the Legislature agrees that the proposal matches the law.
That law should dictate what games or machines may be used, and how many. It could direct a developer to build a certain percentage of square-footage devoted to nongambling activities, such as conference rooms, spa facilities and hotel rooms. The law also should designate the percentage of gambling revenues diverted to worthy public causes, and should name those beneficiaries. It also would ensure that all gaming facilities meet the same requirements.
The casino law also should require the developers to lay their cards on the table — who they are and how they will finance the facility. It might also limit the number of casinos and perhaps designate regions where new facilities could be located, say Washington County and south of Portland. If it does so, residents of the host communities would have to first vote their approval before the question went statewide.
Legislators will be reluctant to support such a law for fear of looking as if they are endorsing the casino concept, or, for that matter, opposing it. But such a law protects Maine from the worst of casinos, while also ensuring the best possible casino is built within a predetermined set of standards.