Casinos wrong for Maine
I can still vividly remember driving up the Maine Turnpike as a freshman. After crossing the bridge from New Hampshire, a simple sign proclaims: "Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be." Maine is a haven for those who cherish a life of peace and solitude. Yet a campaign largely funded by outside corporate interests is now trying to fundamentally alter the character of this state by building a casino in Southern Maine.
The Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation hope to use 362 acres of land in Sanford to develop a $650 million casino resort complex. Under the proposed Maine Tribal Gaming Act, the two tribes would each control a 50 percent stake.
Maine's government would receive one-quarter of slot machine revenues, which would be allocated for education spending and property tax relief. Pro-casino lobbying group Think About It also claims the project would create 10,000 new jobs.
When viewed through rose-colored glasses, the proposal sounds like the perfect way to stimulate Maine's lackluster economy and fill the state's coffers. But there are numerous negative repercussions that will result from a casino, and it is questionable how advantageous the deal will actually be for the state.
A casino would have a negative affect on the high quality of life so many Mainers cherish. As anyone familiar with Las Vegas and Atlantic City knows, casinos result in increased traffic and air pollution. In a September press conference, the Maine Prosecutors Association said a casino would lead to an increase in crimes such as drunk driving and spousal abuse. There are a number of negative ramifications a casino would have, and that does not even take into account the issues of morals and addiction that have church groups up in arms.
A number of groups and individuals have publicly opposed casinos, including the Maine Tourism Association, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Governor John Baldacci, and former Governor Angus King.
A Baldacci administration memo points out that Southern Maine already has a tight housing market. Casino workers could afford only 45 of the 2,060 single-family homes sold in five nearby labor markets during the first half of 2003. A Sanford task force confirmed the case would likely increase pressure on the local housing market.
Not only would the casino cause negative externalities, but the proposal itself is suspect. As the October 21st edition of the Portland Press Herald reported, Portland lawyer Tom Tureen and Penobscot Nation governor Tim Love formed a partnership that could result in huge profits. Sebastian Sinclair, a casino industry analyst, stated that the deal could bring them tens of millions of dollars.
Tureen has refused to disclose the financial arrangements surrounding the deal. The deal would grant the tribes a state-sponsored monopoly, so it seems only fair that they should release the facts to the public. And the pro-casino lobbying group has received $270,000 from Tureen and about $4.5 million from Las Vegas casino developer Marnell Corrao.
The Chamber of Commerce has questioned the 2,660 of the alleged "spinoff jobs" the project would create, claiming that they "are not really accounted for." And many of the jobs would be temporary construction jobs or pay relatively low wages. Many workers in the casinos, such as card dealers, would likely have to be imported from outside of the state. Dana Connors, president of the Chamber, also said the casino would present unfair competition to existing Maine businesses. "This is not a typical business," Connors said. "It would change the character and quality of Maine life."
Casino expert Sinclair further points out that the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not apply in Maine. This means that Maine would not have the power to shut down the casino. He also says that the deal will lead to a windfall for investors while doing very little for the state.
Undoubtedly, Maine's economy needs a boost. But are voters willing to compromise their quality of life to support a proposal motivated by self-interest? Foxwoods, an Indian casino in Connecticut that Tureen helped develop, has enabled a small tribe to become exceedingly wealthy. Certainly our nation has done native tribes a great deal of wrong, but a casino is not the best way to help them.
On November 4th, voters will voice their opinions on the matter through Question 3 on the ballot. I urge them to look at the big picture and preserve this state's unique identity. My vision of the way life should be certainly does not include a casino that will make a handful of Native Americans and investors rich.