Candidates split on gambling


John Baldacci

Opposes Washington County racino, does not support slots. Wants no expansion of gambling until impact of Bangor slots is assessed.

David John Jones

Has no moral objection to casinos and says the state misses big revenues by not allowing casinos. Will vote yes on the Washington County racino ballot proposal and no on barring slot machines.

Pat LaMarche

Believes a casino would create jobs and generate state revenue, but should be required to purchase Maine-made goods. Will vote yes on Washington County racinos and no on banning slots.

Barbara Merrill

Says Maine voters have spoken on Bangor racino, and believes a second one in Washington County holds promise for economic development. Believes proposal to ban slots was prompted by people who lost in earlier racino vote.

John Michael

Opposes gambling in Maine outright. Particularly opposed to “special rights” gambling allowed to Indian tribes or other specific groups. Opposes Washington County racino proposal and supports banning slots altogether in Maine.

Phillip Morris Napier

Believes casinos are a good, clean industry. Will vote yes on the Washington County ballot proposal and no on barring slot machines.

Chandler Woodcock

Opposes development of casinos in Maine, but supports racino projects as endorsed by voters. On a proposed slot ban, he says voters have spoken and he does not support revisiting that decision.

Candidates split on gambling

AUGUSTA (AP) – If you’re looking for an issue that separates Maine’s seven gubernatorial candidates, gambling is a safe bet.

Neither Gov. John Baldacci nor his Republican re-election challenger Chandler Woodcock is a fan of casino gambling, but that’s about all they agree on.

The issue elicited a variety of views from the other contestants in the seven-person Blaine House field. But all acknowledge that voters have spoken on the matter, and said yes.

“Mainers gambling is already a reality,” Pat LaMarche, the Green Independent Party candidate, told The Associated Press in a survey of all of the candidates on gambling and on specific gambling-related questions due to appear on the November 2007 ballot.

The first referendum question asks whether the Passamaquoddy tribe should be allowed to run a harness-racing track with slot machines and high-stakes beano games in Washington County.

The second asks whether slot machines should be banned in Maine.

Each of the candidates said they would respect the will of the voters. But voters themselves can express contradictory sentiments as they did in 2003 when they allowed slots at harness-racing tracks, but said no to an Indian casino.

Baldacci, a Democrat seeking a second, four-year term, has twice vetoed bills calling for a Down East racino. Now that gambling’s here, he agrees with a position taken by the state Gambling Control Board recommending that lawmakers and the public wait to determine the social impact of the new Bangor Slots before allowing any expansion of gambling, thus hinting support for the proposed ban.

Hollywood Slots houses 475 slot machines, but owner Penn National Gaming Inc. plans to replace it in mid-2008 with a permanent complex with up to 1,500 slots.

“I believe what the state needs is sustainable economic development” through research and development, Pine Tree Zones and other measures, said Baldacci. “However, if the people of our state choose to accept casino gambling, I will not stand in their way.”

Woodcock said he opposes the development of casinos in Maine. But he supports racino projects, as endorsed by Maine voters, as a means of enhancing harness racing and the agricultural community. He supported the proposal for an Indian casino in Washington County when it came up for a Senate vote earlier this year and supports passage of the referendum question relating to that proposal.

The project “has strong support in that area and could be the trigger for significant economic development in an area of Maine that certainly needs it,” said Woodcock. “If a racino is approved in Washington County, any further expansion of racinos in Maine should be limited to circumstances where the project is approved by the local governing body and a statewide referendum,” he said.

On the slot machine question, Woodcock said slots at racinos have been approved by Maine voters, and “I do not support revisiting that decision.”

“The Legislature has taken action to create a body to provide appropriate oversight of slot machines in Maine,” he said, adding that Bangor Slots is operating without any apparent negative impacts. But if voters decide to ban slots, “I will use the power of the office to see that the wishes of the voters are carried out,” Woodcock said.

The only other party-backed candidate on the ballot, LaMarche, said Maine has state-sanctioned gambling in the form of lottery games and that gambling is widely accessible in other forms.

Out-of-state casinos are few hours away, and “every Mainer with access to a computer has access to e-gambling,” said LaMarche.

She believes that a casino, which would create jobs and generate revenue for state programs, would be even more helpful if it was required to purchase a minimum amount of products – anything from Maine-made soaps to Maine-grown cabbage – from Maine businesses.

LaMarche is not convinced that crime increases where casinos are developed, and says crime can even decrease as the casinos bring more economic prosperity. As for problem gamblers, they will find a place to make their wagers whether it’s legal or not, she said. She will vote yes on the Washington County racino and no on banning slots.

Independent Barbara Merrill also has no problem with casinos.

She noted that Maine voters approved racinos connected with harness-racing tracks Bangor and Scarborough in the 2003 referendum. Local voters did not allow the southern Maine racino.

“We now have one in Bangor, (and) I think it is consistent with voter intent to allow the second one in Washington County,” Merrill said.

“The question banning all slots seems to be prompted by folks unhappy with the way Mainers voted the first time,” said Merrill. “I have not been to the facility in Bangor, but I have heard of nothing that would justify closing that facility.”

John Michael, an independent who ran for governor in 2004, said he is opposed altogether to gambling in Maine. Michael said he is particularly opposed “special rights” gambling allowed to Indian tribes or other specific groups.

Michael will vote against the Washington County racino proposal and vote in favor of banning slots in Maine.

Nonparty candidate David John Jones, a builder who has not held public office, said he has no moral objection to casinos. Jones said that by not allowing them, the state is missing an opportunity to collect revenues that are instead going to other regional states, such as Connecticut, which allow casinos.

Jones, as well as fellow independent Phillip Morris NaPier, said they will vote yes on the Washington County ballot proposal, and no on barring slot machines in the state.

“It’s a good industry, it’s a clean industry,” said NaPier, noting that the state already sanctions beano and runs lotteries. “Let’s not be hypocrites here.”

NaPier also agreed that “piles of money” going to Foxwoods and other out-of-state casinos could instead be coming to Maine.