AUBURN — Ed Barrett led with jobs. Dennis Bailey closed with suicides.
The Lewiston city administrator and the longtime casino opponent squared off Thursday over Question 3 at an Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast, debating the pros and cons of gambling.
Voters statewide will decide Nov. 8 whether to approve a $100 million casino project in Lewiston.
Measured by applause, the capacity crowd at the Hilton Garden Inn seemed receptive to both men.
Barrett estimated that a casino developed by Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC and a to-be-named partner could bring 300 to 500 jobs with a pay range of $28,000 to $32,000. It could mean $1 million to $2 million in payments to Lewiston, with another $1.4 million to $2.8 million collected in property taxes.
Barrett, Bangor’s former city administrator, said the Hollywood Slots racino in that city has had a $200 million direct and indirect economic impact in that area, without adding a significant strain on the city's budget.
“Importantly, the culture of the community has not changed,” he said.
Lewiston-Auburn could benefit from the new development, Barrett told the crowd.
“I feel like I’m in an alternative universe,” Bailey, the CasinosNo! spokesman, said, taking the mic. “I look at a casino and see the ultimate scam. You’re fleecing people.”
Question 3 wasn’t put on the ballot by a community demanding a casino, he said. It was put on the ballot by people hoping to make money.
The house, Bailey said, never loses.
When someone hits a large jackpot, “money isn’t falling out of the sky — it’s coming from the people who play,” he said. “You took the money out of the pocket of the little old lady sitting next to you.”
Barrett and Bailey disagreed on crime statistics in Bangor pre- and post-racino, any potential positive impacts on Lewiston’s downtown and how onerous traffic would be (a traffic study would come later, Barrett said.)
Maine has a racino in Bangor and a casino being built in Oxford. On Nov. 8, voters will decide whether to allow racinos in Biddeford and Washington County and a casino in Lewiston.
When someone asked Barrett whether five gaming establishments would saturate the market, he said that was a good question. It does invite uncertainty, he said. The approach would be “wait and see.”
Bailey said Canada studied the impact of video lottery machines and connected 350 suicides a year to that gaming activity.
If a drug-maker approached the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with the pitch, “‘It’s a wonderful drug; it will cause one suicide a day,’ you think that would go on the market?” Bailey said.