Maine has dilemma with gambling expansion bill

Jan 13, 2014 7:13 PM

The State of Maine faces a pair of problems now that a bill has been filed to expand gambling in the Pine Tree State.

Currently, the state has two casinos, one in Bangor, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), and the other, the Oxford Casino that was sold by private owners to Churchill Downs Inc. (CHDN) in early 2013 for $160 million.

The first problem lawmakers must face is the threat to harness racing being offered at Scarborough Downs. A bill would permit the harness track operator to install slot machines, a move that is strongly opposed by the casino owners.

But, says Sharon Terry, owner of Scarborough Downs, without slots revenue harness racing, now conducted 125 days or nights annually, will end. That would leave the state with only 25 days of live racing at Bangor Raceway.

Terry says with the opening of the Bangor Casino her business has fallen off 21.8 percent.

The second problem deals with Native Americans, with the leaders of the Houlton Band of Maliseets Tribe and the Passamaquoddy Tribe looking to install slot machines and table games at their facilities. In many states where casinos have been authorized, Indian tribes have negotiated gaming compacts and opened gaming operations similar to commercial establisments.

Maine casino operators say approval of gaming expansion would “simply move money from one casino to another and serve no benefit to the state.”

They also note casinos are on the drawing board of nearby New Hampshire and Massachusetts, making survival that much more difficult should gambling be expanded in Maine.

Joining in the opposition are the elected officials of communities that currently benefit from casino revenues.

Bangor says it now uses all of the casino revenue it receives from gambling operators to pay off the debt it took on in building the Cross Insurance Center.

Ray Poirier is the longtime executive editor at GamingToday.

Contact Ray at [email protected].

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