Policy Wonk: Common sense says vote no on Question 1

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Maine is awash with signs that urge “Vote Yes on Question 1.” The only other words on these signs are “Jobs, Schools, Tax Relief.”

One might have thought a major corporation that actually makes something, and  creates lasting and high-paying jobs, needed or wanted broad public approval before coming to Maine.

You’d be wrong.

A yes vote opens the door to a third gambling casino in Maine. This sort of advertising gimmickry is what big national gambling interests are all about. And they are spending millions of dollars to open that door.

Ironically, the only push back seems to be coming from out-of-state interests associated with the Bangor and Oxford casinos, who don’t want to see their slice of Maine’s casino gambling pie threatened or reduced.

Recent TV ads urging  yes on 1 are no better than the signs. They are folksy, charming and misleading. They urge us to say yes to “better education,” “more jobs,” and “a new gaming and entertainment venue” that would be designed in a “Maine style,” whatever that is.

This venue would include “a convention center, (space) for concerts, county fairs, farmer’s markets, community events, and more.”

But facilities meeting these needs already exist.

Not a word in these TV ads mentions that we’re talking about a gambling casino with a thousand or more slot machines, a wide variety of card games, craps, roulette, mini-baccarat, private high-limit rooms, etc., and generally low-paying jobs.

The whole yes on 1 advertising campaign and the initiated legislation tout the sharing of a relatively small portion of gambling profits with a defined group of worthy individual recipients. How much any one of these groups will receive is totally unknown.

In short, the ad campaign assumes Maine people are stupid and the initiated legislation panders to groups whose needs can and should be met not by hoped-for gambling profits, but by a fair allocation of state and local tax revenues.

Let me lay out some hard, common-sense facts the proponents of Question 1 avoid:

1 — The corporate proponents are not Maine people. They are associated with national gambling corporations (as are the Bangor and Oxford casinos); the lion’s share of gambling profits from another Maine casino will further fatten the bottom line of these out of state corporate entities.

2 — Less than half of the projected jobs, income, and benefits from the Oxford casino have been realized; there is little reason to believe that the puff figures produced by the York County proponents of yes on 1 will be met; they are unverifiable.

3 — Studies show that gambling addiction is a growing national problem, and that the problem is made worse by the growing accessibility of casino facilities.

4 — A recent Time magazine piece was titled: “Too Many Casinos: Looks Like We’ve Reached Gambling Saturation.” In Mississippi, the third largest gambling state, upon the closure of a major casino, it noted “It is a disquieting reality that underlines the deeper threat facing states with legalized gambling: There may be too many casinos chasing too few gambling dollars.”

5 — New Hampshire recently defeated new casino legislation. New Jersey casinos (many bearing the Trump brand) have closed. The New York Times recently noted Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino is hanging by a thread. In Maryland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania casino revenues are all below forecasts; the markets are said to be over-saturated.

6 — Economists (including Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson) have said it is basic economics that gambling involves simply sterile transfers of money or goods between individuals, creating no new money or goods. State-sponsored gambling produces no product, no new wealth, and so it makes no genuine contribution to economic development.

Finally, I doubt the legal validity of a self-serving initiative that grants a valuable state license to one individual, Shawn Scott, without some process of competitive bidding for that extraordinarily lucrative development permission.

The validity of this initiative is further compromised by Scott’s failure to resolve ethical and campaign financing issues currently before the Maine Ethics Commission and the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

Unless or until these legal issues are satisfactorily resolved, it is within the secretary of state’s power to remove this initiative from the November ballot; he should do so.

Failing that, I urge voting no on Question 1.

Orlando Delogu of Portland is emeritus professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law and a longtime public policy consultant to federal, state, and local government agencies and officials. He can be reached at orlandodelogu@maine.rr.com.