The Sun Journal's superficial look at Hollywood Slots as a model for the proposed Lewiston casino relied mostly on anecdotes from admitted casino supporters and ignored important data that would have given a more accurate picture (Oct. 16).
The story gave considerable attention to the millions of dollars in revenue that the casino "generates." But that revenue actually represents the amount of money Maine people lost at the casino. (And surveys show that more than 95 percent of the patrons at Hollywood Slots are Maine residents, not tourists).
In other words, that money was already in Maine's economy, nothing was added. Instead of spending it downtown at retail shops, restaurants, car dealers and other businesses, people just ended up losing it in the slot machines.
That’s not economic development; that's just a shell game. Economic cannibalism.
To illustrate this, it would have been worth pointing out that between 2005 — the year Hollywood Slots opened — and 2009, consumer retail spending in the Bangor region declined, according to the state Planning Office.
If the casino benefited many other businesses, it doesn’t show up in the data. And unemployment in Bangor has doubled since the casino opened.
Sure, the recession took its toll, but the casino didn’t insulate Bangor from the same effects of the recession that every other community experienced. Ironically, however, during the same period, consumer retail spending rose more than 10 percent in Biddeford, the proposed site for one of the casinos on November's ballot.
In other words, Biddeford is doing better economically without a casino than Bangor is with one.
As for the increase in crime, the story mentions a single case of embezzlement — a woman who stole $40,000 from her employer and lost it all playing the slots. But it fails to mention an even bigger case just a few weeks ago — a Holden woman who was convicted of stealing $400,000 and losing it all at Hollywood Slots. Or the apartment manager in Portland who stole more than $200,000 in rent collections and gambled it away at the Bangor casino.
There are other cases too, and probably many others that we don’t know about. Do the public officials who gloat about all the revenue the city collects from the casino feel good about the fact that a sizable portion of it comes from stolen money?
The Bangor police chief is correct that over the past 20 years, Bangor’s crime rate has gone up and down. But what is important to note is that the nearly 40 percent increase in Bangor’s crime rate between 2005 and 2009 — the highest increase of any community in Maine — occurred at the same time that the crime rates in other Maine cities — Portland, Lewiston, Auburn — declined.
The police chief blames drugs, but what city in Maine doesn’t have a problem with drugs? So what’s different about Bangor?
His other comment — that the Bangor police don’t get any more calls to Hollywood Slots than any other business — shows a complete lack of understanding about casino-related crime.
The police in Ledyard, Conn., just outside of Foxwoods, don’t get many calls to that casino either. But since the casino opened, there’s been a 400 percent increase in embezzlement. Prosecutors who used to spend most of their time on drug and drunk driving cases now handle hundreds of embezzlement cases, and the profiles are nearly always the same: middle-aged women with responsible jobs and no prior criminal record who just got addicted to the slots.
Perhaps that is the model Lewiston should be concerned about.
The truth is we don’t really know the full impact that the casino has had on Bangor. What we do know is that all the promises the casino promoters are making to bring three more gambling casinos to Maine are the same ones they made in 2003 for the Bangor casino — and none of those promises have come true.
They promised jobs, but more people are unemployed today in Bangor than before the casino. They said crime wouldn’t increase — but it has, a lot. They said the casino would attract tourists, but it is mostly the locals who play. They said the casino would be an “economic engine” that would benefit every other Bangor business. But that’s not what the data says.
Maine voters shouldn’t be fooled again. Casinos kill more jobs than they create, and bring a host of other problems that end up costing the taxpayers.
We need to focus on jobs and economic development opportunities that fill the pockets of Maine people and their families, not casinos that only pick their pockets.
Dennis Bailey is the executive director of CasinosNo!, a grassroots organization opposed to the expansion of casino gambling. A native of Livermore Falls, he now lives in South Freeport.