Gambling on voters

Downeast Mainers pin their hopes on the turn of the ballots
By JEFF INGLIS  |  October 25, 2007

"Stacked up: City Council and School Committee candidates answer our questions." By Deirdre Fulton.
Question 1
Do you want to expand gambling in Maine by letting the Passamaquoddy Tribe build and operate a slot-machine parlor, high-stakes beano games, and a harness-racing track in Washington County?
A gambling operation in Calais, right on the Canadian border waaaay Down East, would be farther from Southern Maine than Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. The Passamaquoddy Tribe wants to build a harness-racing track (which is not a big money-maker) and then use that track as a site for a massive-revenue-generating gambling hall with up to 1500 slot machines.

Supporters — such as the officials and community members in the TV ads pleading with Mainers to salve their poverty-induced misery with cold, hard cash — say it will be a source of economic development in a depressed area of Maine, and that it will provide more money for the state to spend. Opponents say it will prey on residents of an already poor part of the state, and that gambling isn’t a good method of economic development.

But the real dispute is not about this racino. It’s about whether this racino “opens the door” to more gambling in Maine. It may seem like a funny question, given how much gambling there is already.

We have two multi-state lottery games (Megabucks and Powerball), scratch tickets too numerous to count, bingo halls packing in the players, Penobscot Nation-run high-stakes beano games with prizes as high as $25,000, and nonprofit agencies regularly running benefit events consisting almost entirely of casino games. There’s tons of betting on horses — at the two tracks (to which this would add a third) and the four off-track betting parlors (including one owned by the company the state has hired to monitor slots revenue — see “Jackpot,” by Lance Tapley, June 8) — and the annual agricultural fairs. And don’t forget Hollywood Slots in Bangor, which has nearly 500 slots already, and next year will open a parlor with up to 1500 machines.

Question 2
Do you want to spend $55 million to support business development in Maine, including research and product-development grants, and business-expansion loans? (The grants would attract at least $50 million in federal or private matching funds.)
Nearly all ($50 million) of the money in this bond would go to the Maine Technology Institute, which awards grants in key industries where government officials think Maine has a competitive advantage, like marine-related industry and forestry. Grant recipients must find matching funds from other sources, like the feds or their own pockets. The remaining $5 million would go to smaller loan programs to help businesses expand.

Question 3
Do you want to spend $40 million to renovate and expand buildings at Maine Maritime Academy, at community colleges, and at UMaine campuses, and an additional $3.5 million to support renovations and improvements to schools, museums, historic buildings, and libraries?
Renovations and building expansions at the state’s institutions of higher learning are never-ending, and funding them is downright expensive. They are so costly, in fact, that public universities leave them out of their regular annual budgets, preferring instead to borrow money to pay for the work. This bond also adds $1.5 million into the state’s revolving fund for school renovations and expansions, which already has $6 million available. The extra money means more schools can be fixed up or expanded. And the bond includes $2 million to match funds raised for projects to improve museums, libraries, and other cultural buildings.

Question 4
Do you want to give $20 million to the Land for Maine’s Future land-conservation program, plus an additional $7.5 million to improve state parks, plus $1.5 million to improve irrigation systems, and a further $6.5 million to support river-based economic development programs?
The Land for Maine’s Future program has conserved nearly 445,000 acres of key Maine land (scenic spots, wilderness, shorefront, and easements on working farms and forests), at a total cost of $97 million, or an average of $220 an acre. The new money would continue that effort. And in recent years, state bonds have been issued to promote water-quality projects on farms, to fix up state parks, and for water-related economic-development projects — in this case to revive riverfronts in environmentally sensitive ways.

Question 5
Do you favor extending term limits for legislators from 4 to 6 terms?

Maine lawmakers are prohibited from serving more than four consecutive two-year terms in one house of the Legislature before they have to take a break for at least two years (though the “break” can include serving in the other house). Term limits were imposed in 1996 as part of an effort to get “new blood” into the Legislature, and to expunge inward-looking cronyism from the State House. The previous limit, of four terms, was an attempt to strike a balance between longevity-given experience and fresh ideas; this is a proposed revision to that balance.<0x00A0><cs:7><cbs:-0.9>^<cbs:>

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