Monday, September 26, 2011

The gambling questions

I hope you had an enjoyable weekend as we head into the final week of September.  I'm not so sure that's necessarily a good time as the arrival of October on Saturday will put us that much closer to the snow and ice season.  And cold; let's not forget that cold weather also arrives.  Those prospects didn't stop yesterday, however, from being one mighty fine day.  On the Gator Homestead, the temperature pushed into the 80s under blazing sunny skies.  Officially, I heard Portland reached 83.  What a great day to mow the lawn and wash the deck!

We're also inching closer to the November elections.  For the most part, this is an off-season with mainly local positions and stuff being decided.  There are three ballot questions facing voters, two of which concern gambling.  The top question concerns a people's veto of a bill passed in the last legislature that would change the voter registration time and the other two, also the product of petitioning by the people, would establish new gambling businesses in Maine.

I've already discussed the voter petition (last Wednesday) and I haven't changed my mind on that one.  I'm going to vote "no" for the override as I think even the slight change to require registration at least two business days before an election is better than same day registration.  However, I feel that like the majority of states, that closing of registration should be much earlier than just two days to give local clerks ample time to check residency.  I also believe that, also like a good number of states, the state should require identification at the polls.

Gambling is the topic of the other two questions.  Gov. LePage vetoed two bills that were the result of a previous petition drive to establish more gambling sites in Maine.  His reason for the veto wasn't necessarily because he opposed them but rather because he said the matters were formed by a citizens' drive and so the citizens should be the final arbitor in the decision.

Gambling is not new to Maine.  Voters a few years ago approved slot machines at harness racing tracks in Penobscot and Cumberland counties and we've had the lottery for years.  Voters in Scarborough, the site of the Cumberland County racetrack, failed to approve that track so slots didn't get here.  Bangor voters, on the other hand, said slots would be a good thing at Bangor Raceway.  I find it interesting, though, that the slots paradise in Bangor isn't located at the race track.

Because of the local disapproval in Scarborough, Scarborough Downs petitioned to have slots allowed in a new track in Biddeford in York County.  If approved, and Biddeford voters have already welcomed the establishment, Scarborough Downs would relocate to a newly created Biddeford Downs.

Lewiston would like a full blown casino with both slots and table games and the Bangor facility wants to include the table games in it's slots facility.  A full casino has already been approved for Oxford County.  Indian tribes in Northern Maine, primarily the Penobscot Nation, want to establish a harness facility and slot parlor up there.

In a relatively low populated state like Maine, gambling facilities may have a hard time proving their monetary worth to jobs and the economy.  Sure, the Bangor facility is profitable, but if the other casinos or, as the racetrack ones are called, racinos do get built, I wonder if there'll be enough business for all to compete.  The argument is that it will draw tourists.  Perhaps a few will come, but other nearby states, primarily Massachusetts, are also planning new gambling establishments. 

I find it hard to believe that gambling tourists will bypass Massachusetts and Connecticut for Maine for gambling.

I'm concerned that the establishment of more gamling houses in Maine could lead to more poverty in the state in spite of the jobs creation touted by the builders.  It's also interesting to read that most of these facilities will be run by out-of-state gambling centers which would cause a good deal of the income to be exported.

The now under construction casino in Oxford County, for example, is to be tied to a Las Vegas facility.  Bangor's establishment has ties to an out of state company, too.  I'm afraid these new facilities will be drawing mostly from Mainers, and Mainers who can least afford to lose their money.  Yes, we do read of a very infrequent "big winner," but the profit margin is already guaranteed for the gambling facilities.

I think I liked the way Gov. LePage put it in his Saturday broadcast last weekend.  I can't quote him directly, but when asked about whether people will make money from gambling, his reply was that yes, good money will be made by someone, strongly hinting that it would be someone other than a Mainer.

Have I ever been in a casino?  Sure.  Gator Wife and I have visited Las Vegas twice and we rode on the old Prince of Fundy once.  All three time we had included in our entertainment budget one roll of quarters each visit.  That's a total of $30 dollars.  It doesn't take very long to go through 120 quarters in slot machines.  And I don't buy lottery tickets.

On a Scarborough Downs note, the first job outside my family that I ever had was at Scarborough Downs.  That was way back in the early 1950s when I turned 16.  That was back in the days when Scarborough Downs was a running horse track.  Six of us teens were hired to be what was called "veterinary assistants."  I won't get graphic, but our job was to collect a wet sampling from winning horses immediately after a race to be tested for performance enhancement drugs.

In my two summers at Scarborough Downs, I never collected a tarnished sample and only know of one of my fellow assistants who did collect one.  Drugs weren't the owners' preference for attempting performance back then, as far as I could learn, but they did use ice amply.  Again, I guess I won't get too graphic.

I have never seen a harness race, except on television, but I think I could entertain you for a full column of Scarborough Downs anecdotes from my two summers there.

All this to tell you what you already know:  I will be voting "no" on both gambling questions as I've seen no argument for racinos and/or casinos being a good benefit for Maine.

Closing with a correction:  I had said over the weekend that the Sox's final season's games were in St. Pete.  Actually, it's the Yankees playing the Rays while Boston is playing it out in Baltimore.


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