October 28, 2011

6 groups come together to oppose more racinos

BY TOM BELL

BIDDEFORD -- Six disparate groups opposed to the expansion of gaming in Maine came together on Thursday for the first time to speak out against Question 2, a ballot measure that would allow racinos in Biddeford and Calais.

The Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor and a casino under construction in Oxford have desensitized many voters to the threats posed by gambling, and it's time for the opposition to unite to they can speak more loudly, said Chris O'Neil from Mainers Against a Rotten Deal.

"We are getting off the sidelines and coming at it from many different angles," he said.

Indeed, despite the show of cooperation at a press conference in Biddeford, each group stuck to its own take on the issue.

* Carroll Conley of the Christian Civic League said it's immoral to set up a system in which communities benefit as the expense of those families who suffer from the effects of gambling addiction.

* Bob Fisk of the Maine Friends of Animals said that the harness industry should not receive any money for gambling proceeds because the industry is cruel to horses.

* Mark Furguson of the Friends of Oxford County Casino has no qualms about gambling. Rather, he said that the proposed Biddeford Downs racino would compete with a casino under construction in Oxford and therefore lower the amount of gambling proceeds earmarked at that casino for education programs.

* Dennis Bailey of Casinos No!, which has been fighting gaming proposals in Maine longer than any other group, rattled off statistics and anecdotal evidence that gambling operations increase crime and do not bring money to communities.

* O'Neil said that the racinos would not generate as much revenue for Maine as proposals in other states and that voters should reject all gambling proposals until the Legislature creates better deal for taxpayers.

* The youngest member of the coalition, Matt Boucher, 24, of the Ellsworth-based No More Casinos in Maine, said that jobs at casinos aren't going to pay enough money to keep young people from moving out of the state.

He said the campaign literature and television commercials that tout the economic benefits of a racino in Biddeford rarely mention that it would be filled with slot machines

"They keep talking about building facilities," he said. "You would think we were voting on building a bridge."

None of the groups has raised enough money to pay for television commercials in either the state's two biggest markets, Portland and Bangor. Because the issue keeps returning year after year, its almost impossble to persuade people on the issue with an advertising campaigns, Bailey said.

Instead, the groups are focused on getting opponents of gambling to make the effort to vote on Nov. 8.

Question 2 proponents have focused on one message -- the jobs a racino would generate. They say it will bring construction jobs, support jobs in the harness racing industry and lure visitors to Biddeford.

Proponents gathered at Reilly's Bakery on Main Street and hung a 13-foot banner containing the names of more than 500 businesses in support of Question 2.

That message will resonate with voters, said Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for the Yes on 2 campaign.

"This campaign is about jobs, and I think that will motivate people to get out to the polls," she said.

Mike Reilly, who owns the 101-year-old bakery, said the city needs the economic boost the $120 million project would bring.

"Many businesses like ours have been around for generations," he said. "We need a healthy economy sp we can pass on the torch to our children and our grandchildren."

Tom Bell -- 791-6369

tbell@mainetoday.com

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