Gambling board: Oxford County casino requires new hires

Posted Nov. 17, 2010, at 8:54 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Public safety officials estimate that the Gambling Control Board will need to hire nearly a dozen additional staff — at a cost of more than $2.7 million over three years — in order to monitor the Oxford County resort casino approved by voters.

But at the same time that the board is gearing up for a new casino, state officials will be searching for a new executive director to replace Bob Welch, who announced Wednesday that he is stepping down next month.

Although a recount of the Oxford County casino vote is still pending, members of Maine’s Gambling Control Board were briefed Wednesday about how the addition of a four-season resort casino will affect the small division within the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Welch estimated that the proposed facility will require eight additional inspectors, another state police detective, a full-time clerk and a clerk-auditor. That would nearly triple the size of the office, which now has six staff members including the executive director.

Total cost for the 11 new positions — including salaries and benefits, training and equipment — would likely exceed $2.7 million for fiscal years 2011-13, Welch said.

But Welch stressed those estimates could climb much higher if lawmakers decide, in the wake of the most recent ballot initiative, to grant Hollywood Slots’ request to add table games at the Bangor facility. That decision will be worked out in the coming months as lawmakers craft a bill to implement the Oxford ballot initiative.

“There is no question these figures could change depending on how the final [bill] comes out,” Welch told board members.

Black Bear Entertainment hopes to build the $165 million facility with both slot machines and table games, such as blackjack, on a 100-acre site along Route 26 in Oxford. The project’s backers are interviewing potential gaming companies to run the resort casino, parts of which could open in late 2011.

A study commissioned by Black Bear Entertainment estimated that the resort casino will create more than 2,700 jobs at the facility and generate more than $80.7 million in wages and benefits. Construction of the facility will create an additional 800 jobs.

The Gambling Control Board has about five years’ experience monitoring and regulating slot machines in Bangor. But unlike slots, which are monitored electronically, table games require inspectors to be on site at all times.

“We have to have people there as long as the floor is open,” Welch said.

Anne Jordan, commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, said implementing an new monitoring program for table games will be challenging but that she is seeking advice from counterparts in states that recently went through the process.

“I’m very confident in the system we have for the slot machines, but we have to put a similar quality system in place for card games as well,” Jordan said.

Another question yet to be resolved is how to pay the additional administrative costs before the casino is operating. That money will have to come from the state’s General Fund at a time when Gov.-elect Paul LePage and lawmakers will be cutting spending.

Under the system in place for Hollywood Slots, 4 percent of slots revenue goes into the state’s General Fund in order to pay the administrative costs of the Gambling Control Board. In Oxford’s case, 3 percent of net gambling revenue will go to cover board expenses, including gambling addiction counseling services.

Welch surprised some in the audience on Wednesday by announcing that he plans to resign in mid-December in order to take a job as patrol lieutenant within the University of Maine Police Department in Orono.

Welch, a former deputy chief in the Bangor Police Department, has served as executive director of the Gambling Control Board since 2004.

Board members as well as Jordan expressed sadness about Welch’s departure and praised his work as the head of the agency that oversees operations at Hollywood Slots. Chairman George McHale said that until Welch arrived there were doubts in the Bangor community about the board’s capabilities.

“The one thing that Bob gave us, as former deputy police chief in Bangor, was credibility,” McHale said. “He will be a very tough act to follow.”

Jordan said she planned to begin the search for Welch’s successor soon but first needs a waiver from the governor’s office to fill the position due to a hiring freeze. Jordan said she hoped to recruit candidates with a background in law enforcement and finance as well as people who know how to work with community.

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