RENEE ORDWAY

Maine ballot full of gambling proposals is sign of poor economy

Posted Nov. 04, 2011, at 6:53 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 07, 2012, at 7:39 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

For the moment, at least, the bulldozers, front-end loaders and dump trucks rumbling across work sites in Oxford and Bangor are welcome sights, representing desperately needed work for Maine people.

And on paper, at least, the elegant resort and entertainment complex proposed in Biddeford — and the Oxford Highland Resort, Spa and Casino in Oxford and the state-of-the art arena under construction in Bangor as a result of revenues from Hollywood Slots — look alluring and quite posh.

Emotionally, at least, it would seem just to allow for a racino to help out the residents of Washington County — Maine’s poorest — and wise to allow slots to go into a vacant mill in Lewiston to help the stifled economy there.

Yet together there is little about these plans that are elegant or posh or just or wise.

Instead, viewed as a whole, it all seems frantic, unwieldy and nearly cannibalistic.

That the primary focus of our state’s voting ballot next week is where to locate additional gambling facilities is indicative of the sad and desperate state of our economy.

And when we are faced with that level of desperation, mistakes are made — mistakes that someone somewhere will be dealing with in five, 10 or 20 years.

It strains my credulity to believe that votes in favor of gambling facilities in Biddeford, Calais and Lewiston actually will translate into those facilities being built.

The actual brick-and-mortar business takes up-front financial investment and one would like to think that those with that kind of money to invest would do extensive marketing research before digging the first spadeful of dirt.

But it is exactly those prospective casino developers who are pulling the strings — offering up an “if you approve it, we will build it and they will come” scenario under which all will be good in your kingdom.

Unless it isn’t.

Of course now — days leading up to these game-changing decisions — some are suggesting that perhaps the state should step in and offer some reasonable ideas for gambling regulation.

There are two forces driving the chaos that we will be voting for on Tuesday. One is that Hollywood Slots, which was approved by voters, opened in 2005 and has been a success. Despite a great deal of skepticism and rightful concern, Hollywood Slots, owned by Penn National, has turned out to be a good neighbor.

Crime rates have not skyrocketed as some thought might happen. The city has benefited by receiving 1 percent of the 39 percent tax Hollywood pays to the state, plus the 3 percent it gets from the net revenue directly from the slots.

The city is relying on that revenue to build its $65 million arena and convention center across the street.

It is simply human nature to want a piece of that which leads to the second part of the equation, which is a desperate economy and few if any ideas about how to improve it.

Faced with such economic angst and feelings of hopelessness, people and communities begin to turn on one another.

The survival of the fittest is sort of the mantra for the proponents of the expansion of gambling facilities.

Let the free market decide.

It sounds fair and reasonable and democratic.

But is it the wisest in regards to this issue in our state?

For perhaps the only thing gloomier than an empty lot in a small town or city is an enormous but empty concrete and cinderblock building that once held the promise of being a full-service resort, spa and casino.

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