A Bangor-based leader of the Maine Christian Civic League said he's seen firsthand how gambling hurts families and communities, and that's why he's speaking out against a proposed Lewiston casino.
"We, as a group, are pro-family and we fight for families," said Carroll Conley Jr., executive director of the league. "Because of that, we are opposed to the expansion of gambling anywhere in Maine."
In a statement on the league's Maine Family Policy Council website, Conley urged members to contact legislators and tell them to oppose the Lewiston casino.
"Tell them we do not want them to cave in to the pressure of the short-term, disastrous, non-benefits of the corrupt gaming industry," he wrote on the website.
Stavros Mendros, manager of casino backer Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment, said he was suspicious of Conley's timing. The league did not speak out against other casino proposals from Biddeford and Washington County in its statement.
"I totally respect them being against casinos," Mendros said. "I have a big problem that they are giving Oxford a pass, Biddeford a pass and then calling out the troops because a casino in Lewiston is sinful."
Conley said the release was simply a matter of timing. The group did oppose the Oxford casino and plans to oppose any others that are proposed.
"But we were reacting specifically to the Lewiston group getting their signatures approved," Conley said. "We have not done a broad statement yet. I will actually be talking about our opposition to gambling statewide next week."
Mendros and his group propose to build a casino in the Bates Mill No. 5 building, the massive saw-tooth-roofed structure off Main and Lincoln streets.
Conley said he was serving as a music director at a Bangor-area Baptist church when a friend married a former gambling addict.
"They were married before the casino opened in Bangor," Conley said. "One night, after the casino opened, he relapsed and gambled away everything they had and destroyed their lives and their marriage."
Conley said he doubted casinos bring as much revenue to a community as they cost the community in crime, traffic and police response.
He also downplayed the impact the casino would have on employment.
"I honestly believe we are selling people short," Conley said. "I think we can do better than cocktail waitresses and card dealers."
Mendros said he respected Conley's opinions, and said he would welcome a chance to meet with him.
"I'd like to explain how our proposal is different from other casinos," Mendros said. "We're not proposing to build a compound out in the country to keep people captive. We are proposing something in the center of a community that will benefit everyone."
The league won't be alone opposing the Lewiston casino for long, according to Dennis Bailey of CasinosNO! His group plans to oppose any new casino proposals that make it to this November's ballot.
"I think you could make the argument that Mainers might have already supported casinos in Bangor and Oxford, and they might support one more," Bailey said. "But there are potentially three casinos on this ballot and I don't think that will fly. I think it could reignite the opposition to casinos in Maine."