Other Good News from November: Maine Casino Defeated
Last November, while great things happened in the national campaigns, and some things went wrong in some states, there is good news to report from many states. This entry covers Maine, where citizens voted against a referendum on a casino for Oxford County.
The referendum read: "Do you want to allow a certain Maine company to have the only casino in Maine, to be located in Oxford County, if part of the revenue is used to fund specific state programs?" But the people of Maine saw through that.
And they had plenty of evidence to fall back on. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Las Vegas, Nevada, the urban blight begins the minute you step off the Boardwalk or the Strip. In Connecticut, the state still runs massive budget deficits, despite the two lucrative casinos that draw tourists from all over the northeast. These casinos were built in the middle of a forest, to avoid running into problems with local residents. Just like Wal-Mart, they targeted small towns, because small town politics is easier to game.
The Olympia Group, which bought a controlling stake in Evergreen Mountain Enterprises in September 2008 (link here) is a Las Vegas outfit that visited leaders in the town of Oxford. Shortly afterward, the town passed a resolution to allow the casino to blight their town and region, pending the outcome of the statewide ballot referendum.
"This is exactly what we need," an Evergreen spokesperson told CPN. "The west corridor is mostly for ski resorts, and this would be a four-season destination, rather than just a winter recreation destination."
Olympia Group and Evergreen Mountain Enterprises, that petitioned for the ballot question, would have been the ones to reap the profits. And some profits they would have been. The proposed bill would give Evergreen a 10-year monopoly on gaming in Maine:
"The initiated bill provides that, other than the approved commercial race tracks in the State that operate slot machines, the gaming facility operated by Evergreen Mountain Enterprises, LLC must be the only gaming facility in the State for at least 10 years." - from the bill itself.
The idea is that Evergreen would give 39% of its "gaming machine revenue" to the state for several earmarked programs, including 4% for researching an east-west highway through Maine, 1% for a gambling risk and counseling program, and many other earmarks for student loan assistance, water quality improvements, property tax relief and many other issues.
It all sounds good until you consider that casinos aren't just slot machines. They make a huge part of their revenue from table games, lotteries, shows, restaurants, and hotels. Without a provision for taxes on ALL casino income, it's a racket.
- [Author's note:] In truth, Maine could see benefits from being one of Canada's largest seaports, allowing Canada to bypass the St. Lawrence Seaway. A quick look at North American fright railroad maps tells you that Maine is more connected with Canada's freight system than the US'. That's why an East-West highway has been an issue in Maine for years. So this referendum was a double-whammy. It was a way to skirt the legislature and force not only a casino for western Maine, but a 6-lane highway through Maine.
As for the jobs that would be created, they would be short-term construction jobs, followed by layoffs. Remember the ten-year monopoly, so it's not like the construction workers would be needed elsewhere for another ten years.
The businesses that spring up would also not be locally-owned. You can put all your chips on national chain restaurants, stores, and hotels, which will move in and crowd out existing businesses. It would be like building fifty Wal-Marts in one town.
And that town was thought to be Stoneham, the existing location of Evergreen Valley, once a failed ski resort and today an attractive, little-known wilderness area within a couple hours of Portland. The building and swimming pool are still there. The story of the ski resort tells exactly how destructive greed can depress a town and a region.
And if you want to see how a casino affects the local environment, see the Mohegan Sun (CT) entrance below:
Looks a lot like the entrance to Disney World:
Here is the existing entrance to Evergreen Valley:
For many people, the argument against gambling is one of temperance against vice. My own opposition to casinos was the economic and environmental destruction they wreak. And this would have been a mistake for Maine. It is a tremendous victory for Mainers and anybody else who favors vibrant local economies and environmental protection.
I've written about Massachusetts' own casino debacle here.