BANGOR, Maine — Main Street was busy and noisy late Monday morning — at times drowning out the officials speaking from a podium set up at a press conference outside the Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway.
The sound of activity and construction may have been a bit annoying, but at least one speaker noted how much more annoying a quiet Main Street would be.
“This brings this all to life and shows how development spurs activity,” said John Osborne, general manager of Hollywood Slots.
Osborne and a few other civic and government officials gathered in front of the Hollywood Slots facility on the corner of Main and Dutton streets to announce their promotional campaign to urge Penobscot County voters’ approval of the establishment of gaming tables — roulette, blackjack, poker and craps — at Hollywood Slots in a November referendum.
“It’s going to be a grass-roots campaign,” Osborne said. “People in Maine have questions and want to see the people promoting table games at Hollywood Slots, so I’m anticipating I’ll know every square mile of Penobscot County before Nov. 8.”
Peter Vigue, chairman of the board of Cianbro Corp., also noted the significance of the busy venue.
“We are not at the end of the road. We are at the middle of the road, and we speak openly about the significant opportunities to encourage people and give them the confidence to invest in our state,” said Vigue, standing near where his company is beginning construction of a new $65 million arena and convention center to replace the aging Bangor Auditorium.
Osborne said allowing table games at his facility would create approximately 100 new jobs, totaling more than $4 million annually in salaries and benefits, and would help support the new arena, which is projected to generate almost 300 new jobs.
“This shows us that Bangor can become a city that’s a destination, not just a stopover point, and it will experience tremendous growth and opportunity, not just for this region or the northern half of the state, but also for Atlantic Canada and Quebec,” Vigue said. “Bangor has the potential of being a center of activity.”
Osborne said increased revenue from table games will come from a 16 percent tax and a $1,000 fee per table paid by Hollowood Slots annually.
Osborne started off the press conference by saying, “Promises made, promises kept,” a reference to the financial commitment and injection of tax revenue into the local economy from taxes and fees on slots revenue at the gambling facility, which has 1,000 slot machines.
Osborne also reiterated that parent company Penn National Gaming and Hollywood Slots have answered critics’ charges that slot machines would increase the crime rate in Bangor.
“Looking at the crime stats for the area, they’ve been very favorable, and in speaking to the police chief, the crime we have hasn’t been associated with Hollywood Slots, as it’s more a result of the economy,” Osborne said. “I think we’ve established a track record with credibility up front.”
He added: “We made promises back in 2003 and we’ve kept them all. The fears people initially had have not come to fruition, and we’ve not experienced any pushback or opposition on table games.”
Dennis Bailey, executive director of Portland-based nonprofit organization Casinos No!, said Monday that there’s no evidence for Hollywood Slots’ claims that it provides a big economic stimulus.
“Crime is up, unemployment is up, and retail sales are down,” he said, adding that his group has no stand on table games specifically.
“Slot machines are far more addictive than table games and 80 percent of the gambling industry’s revenue nationally comes from slots,” he said. “And we predicted this from the beginning: Once you get a racino, you’re going to get a casino. That’s the way they operate.”
Nevertheless, Bailey said Casinos No! likely will not oppose the Nov. 8 Penobscot County ballot question.
“We’ve got three other casino-related ballot issues we’re fighting,” he said. “Scarborough wants to move to Biddeford and add slots, and there’s a ballot question to authorize establishment of a casino in Washington County, and another proposed one in Lewiston which includes table games, which would impact Bangor’s expected revenue.”
At Monday’s press conference, Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor, noted that Hollywood Slots has 500 full- and part-time employees. He suggested that helps explain why Maine’s unemployment rate is only 7.8 percent when the national rate is 9.2 percent.
“We’ve weathered the storm fairly well because of investments like this, and because of forward-thinking employers like Hollywood Slots,” Damon said.
Also speaking on behalf of the gaming tables initiative and voicing their support for it were Julia Munsey, chairwoman of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce, and Kerrie Trip, executive director of the Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Vigue said construction of Hollywood Slots, the new arena — for which city officials will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 — and the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion outdoor concert facility are ushering in a new age for the Queen City.
“We believe this is just the beginning for Bangor, and I believe 10 years from now we’ll look back on this as a whole new rebirth of this city,” said Vigue. “We have many resources and amenities here that a lot of places don’t. I tell people that the Bangor region is the red zone, or the next growth area for the state of Maine. We’re going to see substantial amounts of activity here in the near future.”