LEWISTON — Opinions were flying on the Lewiston casino vote Wednesday after two of the state's largest newspapers encouraged their readers to vote against the measure.
Editorials in the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News suggested that the time is not right for a casino in Lewiston, but both papers support casino efforts in other parts of the state.
The Press Herald editorial opined that economic growth in Lewiston might be stymied by the addition of a casino. At the Bangor paper, editorial writers warned that a casino in Lewiston might draw people away from the one already under construction in Oxford and another proposed in Biddeford.
Supporters of a Lewiston casino rankled at the notion that other cities are ready for gaming tables but Lewiston is not.
"It was nice to get a nice pat on the back from the Portland Press Herald about how well we have done and therefore we don't need a casino," said Lucien Gosselin, executive director of the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council. "Some of us are a little frustrated about these issues."
That "pat on the back" came in the form of praise for what city leaders in Lewiston have already done. But the compliment segues into the assertion that building a casino in Lewiston could amount to a developmental setback.
"The fact is, downtown Lewiston has undergone significant revitalization, albeit in a slow, careful manner," the Press Herald wrote. "Most of its landmark mills have been reborn as commercial and retail outlets. On Lisbon Street, young entrepreneurs have opened cafes and art galleries and brought a fresh outlook to the beleaguered neighborhood's future.
"Lower Lisbon Street, once host to an infamous strip of bars, now is home to Kaplan University and modern offices. These developments have been a decade in the making, despite being slowed by one of history's most difficult economic periods.
"In short," the Press Herald wrote, "there is a fair wind blowing through Lewiston, which the proposed casino could block."
Lewiston city leaders and casino supporters were quick to disagree. The problem transcends the casino issue, they say. The greater force at work is the ongoing bias against the city.
"It's maddening," Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert said. "We've got people in Bangor and in Portland saying what's best for us? I don't know if they've even been here.
"We know what we've got here," Gilbert said. "We're talking about jobs and economic development, not just for the city of Lewiston, but for Maine."
The people who are most ardent in their support of the casino, Gilbert said, are those who live and do business in the downtown area.
"People want it downtown because they know what it can do," he said.
The Bangor Daily News also praised Lewiston and then figuratively pulled the rug out, arguing that building a casino here is a bad idea — for Lewiston and for the rest of the state.
"Lewiston officials would do better to build ties to the economic hub that is Greater Portland and persuade developers to save some, if not all of the Bates Mill through incentives," the Bangor paper opined. "A Lewiston casino is one too many. Question 3 should be defeated."
Gilbert compared the attitudes of the papers in Portland and Bangor to those faced when Lewiston tried to lure a postal distribution center here. It ultimately went to Scarborough.
"They just think, 'Oh, we can't let Lewiston have that,'" Gilbert said. "It's always been that way."
Question 3 asks voters whether a casino should be built in Lewiston. Supporters say the effort would bring millions of dollars to the Lewiston-Auburn area and create thousands of jobs. That could help keep taxes down, supporters say, and the casino would provide funding to veterans' groups and senior citizen services.
That might be true, the Bangor Daily News allowed. But success in Lewiston could come at the expense of casinos in other areas.
"The Lewiston project, though it is an innovative initiative that would save a historic mill building and probably bring traffic to downtown restaurants and stores, would hamper the prospects for financial success of the voter-approved Oxford facility less than 15 miles to its west," the editorial states. "It also probably would hurt a Biddeford casino, less than 50 miles away as the crow flies."
The editorial writers also fret about the possibility of a gambling explosion. With one licensed casino operating in Bangor and another under construction in Oxford, the state might find itself suddenly overrun with gambling establishments.
Scott Smith, community development director the Black Bear Development in Oxford, chose diplomacy when asked for his thoughts on the editorials and subsequent reactions. The voters, he said, should be trusted to make the right decisions.
Voters will decide the issue on Nov. 8.