Casino insanity



The effort to build a gambling casino – Maine’s third – in York County has progressed from bad idea to citizen petition to legislative headache.

More than most potential referendum questions, this one stinks. From the deliberately misleading title of the petition – “Horseracing Jobs Fairness” – to language manipulation that stipulates only one man in the entire solar system would qualify to operate the gambling enterprise, this is the Maine initiative process at its worst.

“It’s frustrating that someone can just buy the initiative process,” said State Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth).

Frustrating but true. Virgin Islands gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott spent $4 million on the signature-gathering process. But no worries; the money wasn’t his — it was donated by his sister. The two of them stand to profit 10 times over if, as he did with the Hollywood Slots Casino in Bangor, he flips it and walks away.

But now that the signatures have been collected and validated by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, the unholy writ has arrived in Augusta in the rank and manner of an “indirect-initiated state statute.”

Maine lawmakers can elect not to act on the measure at all, in which case it goes directly to the next statewide ballot in November for voters to decide. Or they can pass the law as written by the enterprising Scott. They can amend and then pass the law or come up with a law of their own that addresses the same subject and place their rewrite on the ballot alongside the mogul’s citizen-initiated law. The voters then choose the version they like.

What’s contemplated is a York County casino with 1,500 slot machines, an increase in the number of slots statewide from 3,000 to 4,500 and an exemption from the law that requires Maine casinos to be at least 100 miles apart.

The Maine Legislature has no choice but to act, and none of the options is appealing. Without even going into the damage yet another casino would do to the Maine brand, it behooves the Maine voter to become familiar with the language, implications and manipulations of this gambling initiative … starting with the name “Horseracing Jobs Fairness.” The law proposed by the citizen initiative would require the casino to send 18 percent of its net profits to fund harness racing purses and support the Sire Stakes Fund, the Agricultural Fair Support Fund and the Fund to Encourage Racing at Maine’s Commercial Tracks. We see the horseracing but have yet to detect the jobs fairness.

The negative effect of swapping “Vacationland” for “Casino Land” would play out for decades. Researching the gambling proposal and its proponents and rehearsing the consequences of another oversold, under-delivering gaming operation is the responsibility of the Maine voter. May the voters be more discerning than those who signed the petition to put this outrageous proposal on the November ballot.

 

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