Man with a load of mischief

Casinos: money and morals
By AL DIAMON  |  November 2, 2011

According to the Maine Sunday Telegram, gambling is OK in Biddeford or Washington County, but if it happens in Lewiston, it's pure evil.

The Bangor Daily News says it has no problem with wagering in Calais and Biddeford, and it wants more of it at Hollywood Slots in Bangor. But it's adamantly opposed to a casino in Lewiston.

The newspapers both ran recent editorials urging a "yes" vote on Question 2 on the November ballot that would allow slot machine facilities at racetracks in Biddeford and Washington County. And both came down on the side of "no" on Question 3, authorizing a casino at the Bates Mill in Lewiston.

What's the difference?

The Bangor paper says, "For better or worse, the cultural and moral taboo on casino gambling in Maine is tattered and faded."

In Lewiston, however, the issue isn't morals. It's money.

"The Lewiston project, though it is an innovative initiative that would save a historic mill building and probably bring traffic to downtown restaurants and stores, would hamper the prospects for financial success of the voter-approved Oxford facility less than 15 miles to the west," according to the paper.

In urging support for the racinos, the Telegram said they would help harness racing, "a valued element of the state's cultural and social structure."

Except for culture in Lewiston.

"[T]here is a fair wind blowing through Lewiston," the Telegram claimed, "which the proposed casino could block. The city should instead continue to support the nascent efforts transforming its downtown — not en masse, but brick by brick, storefront by storefront."

The Portland-based Telegram offered no evidence a casino would damage Lewiston's redevelopment efforts, which could charitably be described as barely perceptible. Lewiston's unemployment rate has hovered above the state average for the past few months, after coming in below that figure earlier this year. As far as economic growth goes, that city exhibits less "fair wind" than breaking wind.

The Bangor Daily's argument at least follows some kind of logic — if you happen to be an investor in the Oxford casino that was approved by referendum last year, but has just begun construction. There's no way there's enough of a market for both enterprises. Lewiston, with a larger population base, would likely suck the life out of Oxford before a single coin slides into a slot machine. Of course, if you're not an Oxford investor, why would you care?

Since neither paper's argument makes much sense, there must be something going on behind the scenes. Why else would these two journalistic institutions be so intent on driving a wedge between supporters of the two racinos and those favoring gambling in Lewiston?

If I had to guess, I'd come up with two words:

Stavros Mendros.

Mendros is the manager of Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC, the company that owns the Lewiston casino. He's also the chairman of Green Jobs for ME, the political action committee promoting an affirmative vote on Question 3. And he's the head of Olympic Consulting, the firm hired by Green Jobs to run its campaign.

Mendros doesn't have much to do with the casino, other than potentially profiting at every stage of the process.

Nevertheless, it might be worthwhile to examine his background to see if it could be fueling antipathy toward the Lewiston project.

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