Debate on casino ruled by self-interest

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What can a guy do to get some support for a southern casino in northern Maine?

Peter Martin of Black Bear Entertainment must be wondering that after twin rejections by the Bangor City Council and the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Indian Township in recent weeks.

The answer is simple — not much.

It’s not for lack of trying. Martin did his best to obtain that support during the legislative session with several proposals aimed at expanding gambling opportunities at Bangor’s Hollywood Slots.

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His latest offer was for Black Bear to delay offering table games for three years or until Hollywood Slots was authorized to provide them, whichever came first.

That offer was rejected.

Clearly, both Hollywood Slots and the Bangor Council see little or no benefit in short-circuiting southern Maine gamblers who might travel to Bangor. Doing so would simply cost both the racino and the city money.

Rejection by the Bangor City Council is, in practical terms, meaningless. Nobody in Maine cares, nor are they likely to remember in November, the council’s predictable position. Ditto that for Hollywood Slots.

But the vocal opposition of Maine’s Indian tribes will resonate with Maine voters who, while they have never favored Indian gambling proposals in the past, are sympathetic to the problems faced by the tribes.

It is well and good to say that a casino would bring jobs and economic activity to economically disadvantaged western Maine.

But there are plenty of similarly struggling locales around the state, among them the tribal areas.

The tribes have also tried for two decades, through the legislative and the referendum processes, to build their own casino.

While they have been thwarted each time, Maine voters will certainly be asking themselves whether it is fair to allow people in Oxford County to build a casino when the tribes have been rejected time after time.

The tribes also complain that Black Bear’s efforts to solicit their support came too late.

“Only when Black Bear Entertainment realized the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township was going to submit competing measure language did Black Bear Entertainment decide to work in a collaborative style,” Passamaquoddy Gov. William Nicholas told the Bangor Daily News.

The opposite could also be said — the tribe submitted a competing measure in the waning days of the Legislature just to derail or dilute Black Bear’s efforts.

Even then, Martin and Black Bear tried working with the tribe and Hollywood Slots to craft a referendum that would win their support.

However, those efforts started too late, left legislators feeling harried and confused, and eventually collapsed.

Again, to the average voter, all of that will be ancient, foggy history by November.

They will go into the voting booth with a couple of questions, most prominent of which will be, “What’s in it for me?” Secondly, “Why not the tribes?”

Black Bear’s success will ride on how well it answers those questions.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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