If you're opposed to casinos in Maine, there's one way to make certain the state won't be overrun with noxious gambling emporiums sucking up every dollar of disposable income we have left:
Vote in favor of every single one of them.
I know that seems sort of counterintuitive, but trust me. The surest method of preventing big-time gaming from becoming more of an economic and political force than it already is would be to authorize all the casinos the gambling industry is asking for. And some they aren't.
The Oxford County resort that's on the November ballot? Thumbs up.
The proposed racino in Biddeford that's going to a local vote this year and, possibly, a statewide one in 2011? No problem.
Converting an old mill in Lewiston into a posh club offering blackjack, roulette, craps, and every imaginable variation on the slot machine? If it makes it to referendum next year, put a checkmark in the "yes" box.
Expand Hollywood Slots in Bangor to include table games? That ought to come up aces.
Allow Maine's Indian tribes to open casinos and add slots at their high-stakes bingo parlors? Long overdue.
Legalize one-armed bandits in bars, hair salons, car-repair shops, supermarkets, and day-care centers? That's a go.
The sooner we remove the shackles of onerous government regulation from games of chance, the sooner we'll see most of the casino hucksters exceeding the posted speed limit in their haste to cross the Piscataqua River Bridge in the southbound lanes.
That's because the gambling business can succeed under almost any financial circumstances except one:
The evidence is clear. If gaming for profit became illegal, anyone who was feeling lucky would have no trouble finding a friendly game or a "for recreational use only" slot in a social club, upstairs room over a tavern, or barber-shop basement.
Restrict the number of venues statewide to one or two? Those sites prosper, since their only competition is the unlicensed sites, which are also doing very well, thank you.
Allow a number of casinos, but maintain strict control by state agencies over payouts, staffing, and management to prevent fraud? That system works really well with Medicaid, food stamps, and stimulus checks.
But what happens when getting permission to operate a casino involves no more paperwork and licensing fees than does a convenience store or porno shop?
Then, the economic restrictions imposed by the marketplace kick in. With a vengeance.
There are only so many gamblers in Maine — even when we factor in all the tourists who come here from places that already have plenty of casinos of their own. These visitors have only a limited interest in wasting their precious vacation time and money on games they could play at home. That means the amount of cash available to be pumped into slots and used to buy chips to put down on double-zero is finite.
We know that sum is sufficient to make Hollywood Slots enormously profitable. We can speculate that it would do the same for one or two similar operations in the more populated southern part of the state. But beyond that?
Why would anyone bother to venture into the barren hinterlands of Oxford County if they could throw away their money at a ritzy club in Portland, Biddeford, or Lewiston? Wouldn't even the possibility of a major casino being built in or near the state's most populous metropolises make investing in competing ventures unacceptably risky?