Rumford abuzz with casino talk

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RUMFORD – A Rumford man has launched a bid to establish a casino in Oxford County.

A Web site seeks help collecting thousands of signatures supporting the casino and the effort has created quite a stir.

Town Manager Stephen Eldridge said town office phones had been ringing off the hook all morning about it.

Angela Howitt, a 15-year employee at NewPage Corp., said the Rumford mill was buzzing with news of a casino, possibly in Rumford.

The Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC Web site, however, didn’t say anything about where its Evergreen Mountain Resort Casino would be located should the plan win approval.

On April 3, Seth Thomas Carey, 31, formed Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC, filing notice with Maine’s Secretary of State three days later.

Contacted Thursday morning in Rumford, a spokeswoman for Carey said he was not accepting reporter’s calls regarding the casino, nor was he ready to go public.

The Web site’s home page appeared to be a work in progress. Wednesday’s stated need for 50,000 valid Maine signatures was downsized to 40,000 by Thursday.

Without naming its backers or Carey, the site states casino advocates are a group of energetic young Mainers “who believe a responsible, environmentally-sensitive, well-planned, rustic-looking gaming facility located in Oxford County will do wonderful things for our state and its future.”

The site states that 39 percent of the gambling profits would be given to the state, but only if the proceeds would be used for several listed environmental and social programs.

Among the additional benefits listed are loan repayments for Maine college graduates, funding for innovative clean energy production, property tax reduction, prescription drugs for the elderly and road improvements.

The site does not say how its backers intend to get the dice rolling on the proposal, only that they are seeking a following “of all the positive, non-extremist real people out there.”

Eldridge said that since WGME ran a newscast late Wednesday night about the casino idea and Carey’s corporation, interest “has been all over the place.”

“The phone’s been ringing off the hook, and I’m sending them to Seth. He’s the contact person,” he said.

Regarding the proposed casino, Eldridge said, “I think it’s very grassroots. Nobody’s come to the town to talk about it. I’m not sure this town would support this.”

Howitt of Mexico, however, said a majority of NewPage workers “want this to pass.”

Howitt said she stayed up late to watch the televised Boston Red Sox game, then caught WGME’s newscast. That’s when she said she learned Rumford might be a possible location for a casino.

“Black Mountain wouldn’t be a bad move” for a gaming facility’s siting, Howitt said of Rumford’s ski resort.

She mentioned stores that had closed recently, including IV Corners convenience store and gas station on Lincoln Street and Hancock Avenue, and Ames in Abbott Farm Plaza on Route 2, which also housed a movie theater at one time.

“I’ve been here 40 years, and this town is dying, and this would really be a good thing. This would put Rumford back on the map,” Howitt said.

Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNo! in Portland, didn’t agree with that assessment.

CasinosNo! is a statewide organization dedicated to stopping the spread of casino gambling in Maine.

“This looks like just another scam,” Bailey said of Evergreen’s plan in an e-mail response Thursday afternoon.

“This proposal raises far more questions than it answers. It’s interesting that while their proposal lists in detail where 39 percent of the proceeds from the casino would go, it doesn’t say in whose pockets the remaining 61 percent would end up,” Bailey said.

He also wondered why people behind the group are not identified on the Evergreen Web site, and about its dig aimed at Las Vegas investors.

Evergreen’s Web site states that should its plan fail, it was only a matter of time before someone else would succeed.

“And, we guarantee that someone else’ will be the unsavory deep-pocketed investors of Las Vegas, or some other out-of-state company that we know will have their greedy best interests at hand, not Maine’s,” the site states.

“The claim that Las Vegas interests won’t have anything to do with it is questionable. Operating a casino requires a special expertise. Without it, banks won’t finance the construction. And, where else but Las Vegas do you find that needed expertise?” Bailey asked.

Additionally, Bailey said he expects more casino proposals to be broached “now that Maine has opened the door to slot machines.”

“It’s important to keep in mind that casinos don’t add to a state’s economy; they only take money from existing businesses, and put it in the hands of some sharp operators, whether they are from Las Vegas or Rumford.

“Casinos promote a nothing-for-something’ economy, and cannot succeed unless hundreds of people lose hundreds of dollars every day,” Bailey said.

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