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Racinos would boost economy in Washington County, Biddeford

Posted Sept. 11, 2011, at 9:05 p.m.

At the University of Maine’s Animal and Veterinary Science Program, I’m lucky enough to work with some of the brightest college students anywhere. Some of them are headed for careers as large animal veterinarians, researchers, horse breeders and trainers.

Many of these young people want to stay in Maine, but those jobs need to be here when they graduate. Unfortunately, Maine’s harness racing industry — a critical piece of the broader equine industry — is struggling. We’re in danger of sending those jobs out of Maine forever.

This fall, we have a chance to compete.

On Nov. 8, voters statewide will be asked whether they support the creation of racinos in Biddeford and in Washington County.

Without a doubt, this vote is all about jobs.

Scarborough Downs has teamed up with Ocean Properties on a proposal to build a destination resort and racino called Biddeford Downs. The second racino has been proposed by the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

The economic ripple effect of the racinos will extend far beyond the men and women you see circling Maine’s harness racing tracks.

Biddeford Downs will cost roughly $120 million to build, providing jobs for roughly 800 construction workers. After it’s finished, the facility will employ approximately 500 people full time, with an average salary and benefits of $35,000 annually. We can expect similar economic rewards in Washington County.

The Biddeford Downs project would provide an estimated $5 million each year for Biddeford’s general fund, to help pay for critical projects including roads, downtown improvements and possibly help to pay for the high school renovations.

Scarborough Downs and Ocean Properties want to build a first-class facility, something the community can be proud of for decades to come. The people of Biddeford have spoken loud and clear. Last November, residents voted in favor of the project, with 59 percent for and 41 percent against. Why should the rest of the state tell them no? If they want the racino, they should have it.

In Washington County, the racino would be an attractive destination for our neighbors in Canada. It would be a welcome economic boost to an area that has long needed one.

Once they are up and running, the racinos would contribute an estimated $50 million per year to Maine’s general fund, the agricultural fairs and university and community college scholarships.

The Nov. 8 referendum is a chance to bring new life to Maine’s equine industry, which has an annual economic impact of roughly $400 million. We are veterinarians, breeders, stable workers, horse handlers, farmers, blacksmiths and equipment dealers. We are small-business owners, taxpayers and investors in Maine’s economy.

Families and their horses are already leaving for New York, Delaware and other states where they can make a living. In those states, harness racetracks are fully integrated with slots facilities.

On the personal side, I started riding horses when I was a kid. Now I’m almost 74, and I have two beautiful horses as part of my family.

Lahar’s Baby Blue is a yearling. The trainers put a harness on her back for the first time last week, and we hope that she’ll be competing in Maine’s Sire Stakes next year. My other baby, Bruizer’s L’il Star, is an 11-year-old retired gelding. He raced until he was seven, and he has been retrained as a show horse.

Both my career and my personal life revolve around these magnificent animals. I want future generations of Mainers to have that opportunity, as well. We need to preserve Maine’s working farms, open spaces and our rich heritage of local agriculture.

Your support on Nov. 8 will help.

Dr. Norinne “Nonni” Daly of Old Town is a horse owner, harness racing enthusiast and faculty member in Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Maine.

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