An initiative to allow a casino in Oxford County, Maine, will appear on the ballot, if not approved by the legislature. State Matthew Dunlap announced today that he had verified petition signatures for the initiative. Lewiston residents will have a chance to vote on a casino coming to Bates Mill No. 5 this June. With the expansion of gambling once again on voters minds, Casinos No will be gearing up to fight these proposals. In a press release this morning, Casinos No released statements of several gubernatorial candidates on casino expansion in Maine. Most of the candidates say, “no thanks”.Governor Baldacci has opposed casino expansion, as didAngus King and John McKernan. As the press release says, our next governor could be influential on future casino policy in Maine. When asked at the AGC debate the candidates gave the following answers:
Pat McGowan: No
John Richardson: Yes
Steve Rowe: No
Rosa Scarcelli: No
Steve Abbott: Yes
Bill Beardsley: No
Matt Jacobson: Yes
Paul LePage: No
Peter Mills: No
Les Otten: Yes
Bruce Poliquin: No
Eliot Cutler: No
Eight candidates out of thirteen were against casinos in Maine. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans leaned toward supporting casino growth. This shows gambling in Maine is not necessarily a partisan issue.
As with other issues discussed at the debate, one word is not really enough to articulate a position on gambling. Casinos No asked the candidates to expand on their positions. Steve Rowe said, “Casinos might look like an appealing solution to a depressed economy, but they generally cost all taxpayers more in the long run.” Rowe also worried that the addition of casinos to Maine would ruin it’s image to tourists. Rosa Scarcelli echoed Rowe’s sentiments saying, “Casinos, slot machines and other gambling operations threaten to cheapen Maine’s timeless image and brand.” Libby Michell explained her “yes” in the AGC debate by saying, “I have consistently supported the casino proposals offered by Maine’s tribes, respecting their right to determine what is appropriate economic development.” Mitchell went on to say that she opposes casino and racino expansion and would not support the Oxford casino. Pat McGowan and John Richardson did not respond to Casinos No’s questionnaire. They did site McGowan as being against casinos for economic reasons. Richardson was, “open to the idea”.
Both Peter Mills and Bruce Poliquin rejected the idea of casinos in Maine. In a responses similar to that of Rowe and Scarcelli, Mills said, “I want to promote tourism and economic development in ways that are far more productive and directly beneficial to Maine citizens.” Poliquin said, “I personally believe there is a better way to improve our economy than through the addition of casinos. Tourism is our largest industry and we must be careful to protect our brand.” He would respect a communities wishes if they voted in favor of a casino. Les Otten donated $2,000 to Casinos No in the 2008. In light of this, one would think he would want to explain his AGC answer a little further.* Eliot Cutler was the only other candidate to have recently donated to Casinos No, giving $7,000 during 2002-2003.
Steve Abbott stated that casinos were, “not a critical part of [his] economic strategy”, but that he would leave decisions to expand gambling up to communities. Abbott said,”If the people living in a town vote in favor of bringing a casino or racino to their town – and they are able to get the approvals needed either through the legislative or the Citizens Initiative process, their wishes should be heeded.” Paul LePage wished to look into the issue further before stating his position. “As Governor, I believe it is important that he/she never make decisions not based solely on personal biases, but rather on what is good for the people of Maine,” Lepage told Casinos No. Unlike many of his competitors, LePage stated that, “If Maine wants to be a tourist state…then you gotta have gambling.”
Eliot Cutler expressed concerns about where gambling money would go. “My campaign is all about helping to create productive, sustainable economic activity in our state,” Cutler said. “Gambling doesn’t contribute to that. Most of the excessive profits from gambling go out of state, and the people who stand to lose the most money are Maine citizens, not visitors.” Cutler definitely rejected the notion of casino expansion in Maine saying, if he were governor, he would veto any proposal that crossed his desk.
Despite rejecting casinos at the polls a number of times, various groups continue to bring proposals for expansion of gambling. Casinos No continues to fight any further casino growth in Maine. One has to wonder if voters will ever warm to the idea. If voters were presented with an equitable casino proposal, one that benefited the state in terms of jobs and revenue, would they finally say yes? Without a doubt, this zombie issue will keep popping up in Maine. Casino proponents will continue to raise the issue until they have a good proposal or voters just give in. Some advice to Casinos No; aim for the head.
* We contacted Les Otten for a statement, but he did not reply in time for this post. If he does, we will be sure to let you know.
UPDATE: A response from the Otten campaign:
Les does support casinos in Maine as long as the enabling legislation is well written, the laws and regulations are vetted and understood, as long as the casino is managed by a Maine Company and the monies stay in the state, and as long as the casino is not just a ‘stand alone’ – it must be part of a larger resort destination to boost tourism in Maine.
Les supported CasinosNo! in their efforts to defeat the Sanford Casino and the Rumford Casino, since we all know both those pieces of legislation were poorly written and were flawed so badly that they would not have benefitted the state of Maine or the citizens of Maine at all.