How many gambling venues are too many for Maine and New England?

Posted Jan. 26, 2014, at 6:16 a.m.
Doug Walker, professor of economics at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and author of the book &quotCasinonomics."
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Doug Walker, professor of economics at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and author of the book "Casinonomics."

People walked into Maine’s two beckoning casinos last year and gambled more than $1.1 billion.

Newcomer Oxford Casino, without a hotel or amenities except a restaurant with a $5 burger night, saw more than half of that action.

With numbers like that, other companies want in.

The rhetoric is high and so are the stakes, for the casinos and for Maine.

It’s a casino arms race, one analyst told the Legislature: “The question faced by Maine is, ‘Do you want to enter this war armed with a basket of 22-caliber pistols or do you want to defend your market with … B-22 bombers?’”

Scarborough Downs says if it doesn’t get expanded gaming, this year is likely the end. There will be no more track, period, leaving jobs and thousands of acres of farmland in jeopardy.

And whatever Scarborough’s future, Massachusetts and New Hampshire casinos are likely soon to come knocking.

Meanwhile, Maine lawmakers this winter are fielding requests to build two more casinos and one slots parlor and weighing larger issues such as whether licensing fees should skyrocket from the $225,000 each paid by Oxford Casino and Hollywood Casino to north of $100 million for the next one.

The state’s cut of that gambled $1.1 billion in 2013? More than $51 million shared by the General Fund, schools and a dozen other groups.

Approving more casinos could either double that or decimate it, depending on whom you talk to.

“There is simply no question that given the green light by state legislators and promoters, marginal operators will continue to join the casino arms race to the point of mutually assured destruction,” said Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, lobbying on behalf of Oxford’s owner, Churchill Downs, which is vehemently opposed to new development in southern Maine.

In short: If Scarborough Downs is approved, it will be a hardship for Oxford and little net gain for the state because a Downs casino would draw nearly all of its customers from the casinos in Oxford and Bangor, according to Barrow’s projections.

But not so, says Scarborough. And so what if some customers pick it over Oxford?

“Generally, the way America works is, we think you’d be better off if you’re worried that someone else is going to work harder and longer and better than you, and that will be your motivation,” said Ed MacColl, an attorney for the Scarborough racetrack.

Its development partner, Ocean Properties, has projected: “A new facility in southern Maine would more than double Maine’s total gaming revenue for the state.”

For the full story, go to http://www.sunjournal.com/news/maine/2014/01/25/high-stakes-gamble/1473573#

 

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