No on Question 1

Posted Oct. 22, 2010, at 6:03 p.m.

“Do you want to allow a casino with table games and slot machines at a single site in Oxford County, subject to local approval, with part of the profits going to specific state, local and tribal programs?”

The casino proposed for Oxford County will not be a balm for Maine’s ailing economy, and it unfairly changes the law to the detriment of Maine’s only operating racino, Hollywood Slots of Bangor. For these reasons, Question 1 should be defeated.

The debate over allowing a casino in Maine takes a perplexed voter through some diverse territory, with votes on gambling in 1979, 1994, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2008. In each case, voters turned down casino gambling, except in 2003 when they defeated a Sanford tribal casino but approved raci-nos — slot machines near horse tracks in Bangor and Scarborough. Only Bangor’s has been built.

Much of the debate turns on economic development. Proponents say the casino will create jobs, and bring in out-of-state visitors, while retaining Mainers — and their money — who now travel to Connecticut to gamble. But how many new dollars will be spent in Maine that otherwise would not be spent here remains an open question; most of the customers at Hollywood Slots are from Maine. And the Maine brand as a proven tourist draw may be tarnished with a full-fledged casino — table games, such as blackjack and poker, would be allowed at the Oxford facility.

Yet another reason proponents like the casino is that it will generate a substantial and steady revenue source for activities now funded by state taxes. While that is appealing, especially during a recession, it is a back-door sort of tax, one that is not borne fairly among the population. Overwhelm-ingly, it is older people on fixed incomes who pay this “tax.”

Worse, the backers of the Oxford casino wrote the law in a way that could allow them to keep more of this money. As with Hollywood Slots, much of the casino revenue would go toward education and agricultural fairs and harness racing. But, if a third gambling facility is owned by or distributes funds to the state’s Indian tribes and harness racing entities, the Oxford casino would stop its payments to them — and keep the money.

The investors hoping to build the Oxford County casino have successful business track records and have real ties to Maine, making this better than previous casino proposals. If the casino were to win voter approval and it gets built, they know they have to meet the gaze of their colleagues and neighbors each day on the street, and so are likely to ensure it is a quality establishment.

But, their proposal should be rejected because it changes the rules for Maine’s only racino, Hollywood Slots of Bangor. Question 1 would change state law to allow table games at the Oxford casino. While backers of the Oxford casino pledge to work to ensure Hollywood Slots also gets table games, their law is written to make it more difficult for this to happen. Rather than just a change in law, which is what would be needed now, if Question 1 is passed, Hollywood Slots would have to successfully mount a statewide referendum to also be allowed to have table games. This is not fair.

Gambling is a safe bet for the investors. But it does not support Maine’s bid to have a thriving economy.

We can do better. Vote no on Question 1.

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