June 21, 2018
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Devil is in the details of Maine racino bill

By Dennis Bailey, Special to the BDN

Secretary of State Charlie Summers spends a lot time in his Sept. 6 BDN commentary ( “The truth about the ballot question process”) praising the process that allows Maine residents to comment on proposed ballot questions — then bashes me for taking part in that process.

Let’s set the record straight. CasinosNO! and others wrote to Summers last month because we felt that the ballot question he wrote for the proposed Biddeford racetrack casino was inadequate and misleading. Summers doesn’t include his draft question in his commentary, but it simply asked, “Do you want to allow a slot machine facility at a harness racing track in Biddeford …?”

Had no one complained, that’s likely the question that voters would have faced when they enter the ballot booth this November.

But we objected to the wording of the ballot initiative because the law in question doesn’t even mention Biddeford and in fact allows numerous communities within 25 miles of Scarborough Downs to host the new slots facility. We felt it was important that voters, especially those residing in the affected communities, were alerted to the fact that they weren’t just voting on a Biddeford slots parlor, they were potentially voting for one in their community too.

Thankfully, the Bangor Daily News, The Ellsworth American and ultimately Summers himself agreed. He changed the wording of his proposed draft to accommodate our concerns. The question now asks, in part: “Do you want to allow a slot machine facility at a harness racing track in Biddeford or another community within 25 miles of Scarborough Downs, subject to local approval …?”

That’s an acceptable compromise, and in my public comments on the matter I praised Summers for amending his original question based on the comments he received from CasinosNO! and others.

That should have been the end of it, but for some reason Summers saw fit to criticize me for other statements in my letter to him that he claims are erroneous and didn’t affect his rewording of the question anyway. Summers says that Maine law does not allow the slots facility to be built anywhere but at a racetrack, contrary to what I believed the legislation says. He also said that not every community within 25 miles of Scarborough Downs would be eligible for a slots facility, only about 12 of them, because of restrictions in current law regarding the location of the Oxford County casino.

OK, fine. But Summers should know that my information came from a legislative analyst for the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs who wrote to a Maine legislator saying that the Biddeford racino bill “permits the applicant to have a slot facility within 25 miles from the center of an existing commercial track [Scarborough Downs].”

The bill’s summary itself says, “This initiated bill allows the Gambling Control Board … to accept applications for a license to operate slot machines from any person who is licensed to operate a commercial track located at or within a 25-mile radius of the center of” Scarborough Downs.

Nothing in the law’s wording suggests that the slots facility must be located at the track, or that some communities within 25 miles are ineligible for a slots facility. My mistake was not cross-referencing this latest bill with existing law, and I apologize for that.

But our major point still stands – now that the ballot question has been changed, voters will know that they are potentially voting for a racetrack casino in communities within 25 miles of Scarborough Downs, not just Biddeford. That’s important.

What this episode really illustrates is that Maine now has such a confusing mishmash of laws and regulations regarding slot machines, casinos and racinos — most of them written by the proponents of these facilities — that it’s a wonder anyone really knows what we’re voting on.

Our view is when in doubt, just say no.

Dennis Bailey is president of the media relations firm Savvy Inc. and oversees the CasinosNO! advocacy group.

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