INDIAN TOWNSHIP, Maine — Flowers were arriving, the parking area was being washed down, bingo callers were rehearsing their skills, and the windows were being polished Friday at the Passamaquoddy High Stakes Bingo parlor in Indian Township.
“We’re ready,” pronounced Tribal Gov. William Nicholas, beaming from ear to ear.
Saturday was opening day for the 500-seat parlor, and Nicholas said he expected at least 200 people to arrive, although he would welcome a full house.
“We have already had confirmation of a bus out of Bangor with 80 people on it,” he said. “Another 60 to 70 folks from Canada are heading our way.”
The first day’s total payout is expected to be $12,500, at a minimum.
The project is part of a revitalization — not just of a former recreation center, but of the tribe itself, which just a few years ago was facing bankruptcy.
When he was elected governor nearly four years ago, the tribe was in upheaval, Nicholas said.
The former governor, Robert Newell, and the tribe’s business manager had been found guilty in federal court of charges in connection with the misuse of tribal and federal funds between 2002 and 2006. Newell was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $1.74 million in restitution.
Former finance director James J. Parisi Jr. of Portland was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison and ordered to pay $1.62 million in restitution for his role.
Nicholas said that before his term, money was being wasted on unnecessary projects and at one time people within the administrative offices went more than two weeks without getting paid.
“We have to take a position now of being proud of what we have accomplished,” Nicholas said.
He was quick to say that the project was not his, but the tribe’s.
“I’m just doing the job they’ve trusted me to get done,” he said.
Although Nicholas would not say how large an investment is being made in the gaming hall, he is optimistic it will be an economic boon to northeastern Washington County.
“This is not just about bingo,” Nicholas said. “This is about providing jobs and bringing some stability to our area. It will help make us more independent and provide an economic boost. The entertainment, the food, the lodging will all have a huge impact on Baileyville, Calais and beyond.”
Nicholas said his goal is to keep people working. More than 100 craftspeople worked on the construction and renovation of the parlor and when 77 people showed up recently to interview for the permanent weekend jobs in the parlor, Nicholas hired them all.
“If they are working in here, they aren’t gambling,” he said. “We are now creating a better economic base. This project will have a direct impact, not just on local employment, but on education, recreation and our reservation infrastructure.”
Today, a bright new facility awaits gamers. The parlor itself, row after row of tables and chairs, is decorated with native crafts and decor. Closed-circuit televisions along the sides and two large lighted signs allow players to follow the action.
The parlor is airy and light, with a glassed-in area containing 50 electronic gaming machines. Looking very much like slot machines, their use was allowed by a new state law that went into effect earlier this month.
The machines have all the Las Vegas-style bells and whistles, but a preprinted ticket determines the element of chance, not the machine. The machine acts merely as a dispenser, Nicholas explained.
Nicholas said the more people who come to the games, the greater the payoffs will be, both inside the gaming hall and outside.
With so much excitement in the air for opening weekend, Nicholas said, it was hard to look too far ahead at expansion. “I want to see us sustain what we have first, and then we can grow.”
The Passamaquoddy High Stakes Bingo parlor is located in Indian Township on U.S. Route 1. For more information, call 796-2277.