It came as a bit of a surprise to me to see that the Bangor Daily News endorsed a yes vote on Question 2. It wasn’t the fact that the editors broke the long-standing tradition of the newspaper taking a “no” stance on gaming expansion that surprised me. Nor was it that the newspaper felt that Question 2 was appropriate for a yes vote when Question 3 (which would approve a singular casino in Lewiston) was not.
But what surprised me was that the newspaper endorsed a question that would clearly have a negative effect on local jobs and revenue in Penobscot County.
The approval of Question 2 would establish two new racinos — one that we’re told will be located in Biddeford, although the referendum clearly states that it could be anywhere within 25 miles of Scarborough, and one in Washington County. This would be in addition to the casino that was approved by voters last year in Oxford County. If Questions 2 and 3 both pass, it would increase the number of casinos in Maine from one to five.
Putting the idea of having five casinos in Maine aside (did you ever think we would be talking about having five casinos in Maine so quickly?), let’s think about how this would affect Penobscot County. Hollywood Slots estimates that the approval of Questions 2 and 3 would affect their revenue by about 30 percent.
To put this in context, Hollywood Slots currently pays a tax stream, called a “cascade,” to a number of different beneficiaries including scholarships for Maine students, prescription drug programs for seniors, the state fairs, the harness horsemen’s association and the city of Bangor.
It doesn’t take too long to figure out that if Hollywood Slots revenue is affected by 30 percent, the revenue streams of all of the beneficiaries of Hollywood Slots’ tax cascade will also be impacted. This could have a very serious impact across the board, but specifically to the city of Bangor.
Perhaps more substantial would be the impact to jobs at Hollywood Slots.
In addition to being a Penobscot County Commissioner, I work at the mill in East Millinocket. I know what it means to see a job disappear. I know how it feels. I know the impact a lost job has on individuals, families and friends. It hurts.
At a time when our economy continues to be fragile, we have been lucky to have an employer like Hollywood Slots that employs about 400 people with good paying jobs and benefits. They will be employing another 89 local folks if Penobscot County residents approve table games (on the flip side of the ballot) on Nov. 8.
Hollywood Slots was named as one of the 40 Best Places to Work in Maine this year. The employees at Hollywood Slots like their jobs. They perform their jobs with professionalism and dignity. They are proud to be living and working in Penobscot County. Why would anyone in this part of the state cast a vote to hurt what we have here locally?
I am not against more casinos. But the push to build more casinos and “let the market decide” will most certainly cost people jobs here in Penobscot County, and impact revenue streams for some very worthwhile beneficiaries.
It might make more sense to at least wait until Maine’s second casino is built before we decide if we can approve three more. Please join me in voting no on Questions 2 and 3 on Nov. 8 to protect local jobs and investments.
Stephen Stanley, a Penobscot County commissioner, lives in Medway.