Reckless gambling means losing more than winning.

So does reckless oversight of gaming, a situation Maine has fostered since racinos were allowed by referendum in 2005. Maine’s gambling control board, now two years into its work, still doesn’t know what it’s empowered to do.

“Here we are sitting as a board without really having any authority,” board member Peter Danton said during a meeting this week, according to the Capital News Service. “We don’t have any authority to find out anything.”

A moratorium on gambling outlets in Maine, approved by the board last year, is nonbinding. The board wishes to commission a study on the impact legalized gambling has had on Mainers. It doesn’t have the money. It’s approached by state contractors related to gambling oversight, looking for input. The board just shrugs.

Meanwhile, the political and financial power of gambling grows. Its Augusta muscle was flexed this past legislative session, as a State House rally and construction shutdown at the Hollywood Slots site in Bangor scared lawmakers from dipping deeper into the slot parlor’s deep revenue stream.

Now, a University of Maine study illustrates the economic boost of Hollywood Slots: $14 million into Bangor-area hotels and $6 million into lodging in 15 months alone, though the author, Associate professor Todd Gabe, says his reported figures shouldn’t be construed as a negative or positive assessment of the racino.

For a state yearning for investment and economic development, these figures will do little to stifle other gaming efforts – the chink of easy money is just too loud. Despite Gabe’s weak caveat, from Rumford to Scarborough to Indian Island, these lofty fiscal numbers are golden nuggets for pro-gambling causes.

And the construction on Hollywood Slots’ new $131 million hotel/racino complex isn’t even finished.

The potential for growth of gambling in Maine requires a capable oversight body. The fierce-named gambling control board is a mere kitten, only able to issue ignorable decisions and unsure of its authority or overall purpose.

“We need to figure out, in the state of Maine, where we’re going with gambling,” Danton also said this week.

With crystalline economic attractiveness, growing political influence and scattershot regulatory oversight, the real question might be where gambling is going with Maine.

And just who, within state government, has the power to watch it.

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