Thursday, February 28, 2008

Another Gambling Proposal for Maine

If something is repeated often enough, then people frequently begin to believe that the “something” may be a good idea. After all, if it weren’t, why would it keep coming back? In this case, I’m talking about gambling. Once again Maine voters are going to be faced with a casino question during an election. One of the questions on our November 4th ballot will be asking us if we approve a casino in Oxford County. The question is a result of a citizen initiated petition drive which gathered more than the required 55-thousand signatures to force the referendum.

A few years ago, voters approved a Racino in Bangor and Scarborough, but at the same time the Scarborough Town voters rejected it. At the same time, the voters rejected a casino in Sanford. A couple years later, voters again rejected additional gambling, this time a new racino and the construction of a new harness race track in Washington County. There is a difference between a racino and a casino. The measure approved for Bangor and Scarborough was a proposal to allow harness racing tracks (in the two locations) to expand to include slot machines only. A casino allows the full range of gambling activities, including slots, card games, roulette wheels, and others.

The proposal for Oxford County is not yet a “done deal.” There are steps that have to be taken before it can become a reality, and there are a lot of indications it will be heavily opposed. What the Secretary of State today certified was the petition signatures. The measure now goes to the Legislature which could simply approve it or, more likely, send it out to the voters. The latter is what usually happens to citizen initiated referendums. If the voters do approve it, then it has to go through some hearings and votes in Oxford County.

There are some differences in this one and previous desires for gambling in Maine. The racino questions, for example, were restricted to slot machines connected to race tracks. We tend to slide over Bangor’s Racino and its connection to the Bangor race track. They aren’t connected. The new proposal for a full casino wants slot machines, table games, card games, and other gambling devices. But perhaps the biggest shocker is a provision that, if voters approve the referendum, would require, yes, require, the president of the casino in Oxford County to be a voting member of several state agencies that casino supporters say the proceeds will help.

Dennis Bailey, the spokesman for a non-profit organization “Casinos-No” pointed out in a press release today that nearly two dozen state programs would receive a share of the casino revenues for a wide variety of purposes – education, health care, energy and land conservation, etc. But the bill also requires that the president of the casino be appointed to each governing body or board that is a recipient of the casino revenues. That means, Bailey said, that at a minimum, the president of the Oxford County casino would be a voting member of the Finance Authority of Maine, the Land for Maine’s Future Board, the University of Maine Board of Trustees, the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees and the Oxford County Commissioners.

“He’s going to be a busy guy,” Bailey said of the casino official. “It’s bizarre. Do we really want the head of a casino making all kinds of decisions about higher education, land conservation and health care spending?”

A couple other provisions are also interesting. One would prohibit any further casinos in the state for 10 years effectively giving the Oxford County one a monopoly. It also would prohibit racinos from having table games. Another would lower the gambling age for the casino from 21 to 19 years of age.

This has the potential of being a rather interesting, and probably dirty, campaign to bring more gambling to Maine.

To see the Secretary of State’s statement, go here.
For more information from Casinos-No, CONTACT: Dennis Bailey, 207-347-6077


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