AUGUSTA – After a debate in which one senator teared up, the Senate voted 19-15 Friday to allow Maine’s Passamaquoddy Tribe to have 1,500 slot machines, a horse-racing track, a hotel and high-stakes bingo hall in Washington County.

On Thursday the House voted 87-46 for the tribal casino.

After Friday’s Senate vote, Rep. Frederick Moore of the Passamaquoddy Tribe gave a thumbs up to a supporter. “We’re totally pleased,” Moore said. As proposed, Maine’s other tribes would be invited to participate in the casino, Moore said.

But the tribe’s happiness may be short-lived.

Pending final votes, the bill heads to Gov. John Baldacci’s desk. Baldacci has pledged to veto the bill, saying a casino in Washington County “is not sustainable economic development.”

It’s unclear whether there are enough votes to override Baldacci’s veto, since neither the House nor Senate vote had the necessary two-thirds majority.

Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, began Friday’s two-hour debate speaking for the casino, saying people in his Washington County are tired of waiting for poverty to go away.

Washington County families have less than half the incomes of those in Cumberland and York counties, and Washington County has the highest unemployment rate in Maine.

His voice choking, Raye spoke of the pain of families watching their young ones leave. The tribal proposal for 1,500 slots is not the same one rejected in referendum several years ago, he said.

Those who love Washington County have been “hurt that so many of our fellow Mainers, who seldom ever visited our part of the state, so vehemently oppose an effort that holds such promise for creating jobs in our part of Maine,” Raye said.

A casino would allow the area to take advantage of the traffic that crosses the Canadian border at Calais, he said, adding that Calais is the eighth-busiest border crossing with Canada in the nation. Local businesses watch as “tour bus after tour bus after tour bus pass us by,” he said.

Raye had lots of support and opposition.

Sen. Peter Mills, R-Skowhegan, said gambling makes the poor poorer. Slot machines have to be “one of the dumbest human activities, to put $1 in a machine and get back 89 cents.”

Anyone who has “read any literature on how these things got started in Connecticut, you carry away one lesson: Do not trust one single word of a piece of legislation written by the gambling industry. In their legislation they’ve got hookers in there and they’ll take us to the cleaners every time.”

Maine should not rush to double the number of slot machines allowed in the state before seeing what the Bangor racino brings, Mills warned.

Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, agreed, saying his social service organization has enough poor clients. Existing soup kitchens and homeless shelters can’t handle the poor in Portland. Gambling facilities would make that worse, he said. “Slot machines are called ‘video crack’ for a reason. They are addictive, designed to suck you in and get as much money as possible.”

But others argued Maine is being hypocritical by not allowing the tribes to have slot machines.

“Why is it we have scratch tickets in front of every glass counter in every country store, and you say to me, ‘I don’t like gambling’? We have been extremely hypocritical about gambling in this state,” said Sen. Chandler Woodcock, R-Farmington.

Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, agreed, saying that people in Portland last year spent $6.5 million on scratch tickets, people in South Portland spent $3.2 million, and that in his tiny community of Eagle Lake – population 1,000 – scratch ticket sales amounted to $300,000.

“We’re not gambling in this state? Who are we kidding!” Martin said. A Washington County casino “is worth a try, because frankly nothing else has worked. I’ll be trying to convince our chief executive he ought to sign it,” Martin said.


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