March 24, 2018
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Gaming bill about jobs for Washington County

By Joseph Socobasin, Special to the BDN

Gaming prospects have been discussed for almost two decades. We now stand ready again to see if we will be allowed create the jobs that come with the passage of LD 1203. In Washington County, the poorest county in the state with 12.7 percent unemployment , these jobs mean economic development on and off the reservation. A job can cure many of the social ills that we see here, that we live with everyday.

We have watched the referendum signatures be gathered, the legislation debated, then passed and vetoed, and voters choose gaming in some areas of the state and not others. The initial impetus for gaming in Maine began with the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the early ’90s. The tribe has participated in the discussion throughout the years, from attracting investment to gathering signatures for ballot initiatives, from participating and funding campaigns to placing options on property for potential gaming facilities.

The tribe’s objective always has been the same: to treat native Mainers fairly, recognize their sovereignty and, most of all, create jobs in eastern Maine and stimulate the Washington County economy by attracting tourism and capital. Like all Mainers, the tribe understands that gaming is not the panacea for economic difficulties, but it can play an important role in tourism.

Everywhere else in the United States, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) requires that Native American tribes must be afforded competitive gaming rights, but because of the unusual relationship negotiated in the Maine Indian Claims Settlement with the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the state of Maine is the sole exception to this rule.

But while federal law may treat Maine’s tribes differently than their counterparts in the other 49 states, fundamental fairness knows no boundaries, and Maine people are nothing if not fundamentally fair.

This year, the Passamaquoddy Tribe joined with Biddeford Downs, the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, and the entire harness racing community to request passage of LD 1203. The bill was initiated by petitions of more than 60,000 Mainers asking the Legislature to consider “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Deadline and Conditions for Municipal Approval of a Second Racino and To Allow a Tribal Racino in Washington County.”

Mainers recognized that well-regulated expanded gaming can be an important part of Maine tourism when they voted for the Oxford County casino referendum last year. LD 1203 will allow expanded gaming to serve two groups with a natural reliance on gaming to compete and help Maine’s tourist economy grow: the harness racing community and the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

The tribe plans a modern racino, by the new International Bridge and overlooking the beautiful St. Croix River in Calais, which will attract tourists and most of its customers from population centers in New Brunswick. The project has been endorsed by the Passamaquoddy Tribe, a unanimous vote of the Calais City Council and by a 70 percent to 30 percent vote among residents of Washington County.

The facility will bring the excitement of harness racing back to Washington County, along with a first-class hotel and a modest convention center, all designed with up-to-date market studies and meticulous business planning. The racino brings prospects of financial strength to a proud and beautiful region with untapped potential.

When looking at all of our tribal businesses, including Creative Apparel Associates, Northeastern Blueberry Company and our tribal government system, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township is already one of the largest employers in Washington County. We strive to be a force in bringing opportunity not only to our people but to all of our neighbors across the Sunrise County.

We are well aware that gaming is only one part of a strong overall economic strategy; we have several additional projects under way, including renewable energy, a bottled water initiative and other manufacturing projects. We look forward to stimulating the region’s economy and providing jobs and tax revenue while also sustaining the harness racing tradition in Maine and expanding the productive open farmland our horsemen preserve. The men and women of the Passamaquoddy Tribe are proud of their new partnership with the Maine harness racing community: two groups with a strong history of protecting our environment and serving the greater good.

With our friends in harness racing, we respectfully ask the Maine Legislature to please pass LD 1203 so that, collectively, we all can boost Maine’s economy and show the world that all of Maine is open for responsible business.

Joseph Socobasin is the chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township.

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