The campaign for an Oxford County casino got wicked fun this week, with the announcement of Pat LaMarche as its spokeswoman.

LaMarche – an ebullient Green Party candidate for Maine governor and U.S. vice president, radio personality, author, journalist and bartender – has climbed aboard the casino campaign to strengthen its public relations effort.

That’s the official explanation, anyway.

LaMarche’s real job is neutralizing two-time champion casino killer Dennis Bailey, whose efforts with CasinosNo! are credited with depth-charging gambling in Sanford in 2003 and Calais in 2007.

Neither Bailey nor LaMarche recoil from a fight. From a journalist’s perspective, the prospect of these deans of double-talk, barons of bluster, razor-tongued raconteurs hammering each other through November is nirvana.

LaMarche has already started, commenting during a meeting Tuesday at the Sun Journal that Bailey’s suit could use a good ironing. Bailey uncorked a fastball later that day, dryly observing LaMarche’s definition of “Green” must have changed to money. Hooboy. It can only get better from here.

With LaMarche, the casino campaign has put Bailey in its cross-hairs. While this makes strategic sense, the public shouldn’t be distracted by these sultans of spin – the burden of proof about this casino remains on its proponents.

Voters have twice rejected gambling proposals. LaMarche maintains they were hoodwinked by casino fear-mongering orchestrated by Bailey, which serves to inflate her rival, but deflates the will of the people.

An Oxford County casino cannot be sold on spiel that voters have been wrong. Bailey is maybe Maine’s sharpest flack, but even he couldn’t sink casinos single-handedly. There is strong sentiment in Maine against gambling.

So LaMarche must do more than make this fight interesting. She must make it transparent, illuminate the benefits and drawbacks of this new casino proposal, and not fight old battles. She must match her sass with substance.

And, as we’ve said before, substance about this proposal is woefully lacking.

Nobody yet knows where this casino might be built or who might bankroll it. Developer Seth Carey’s partners are unknown, as are gambling interests that will inevitably manage the casino. The enabling legislation is deeply flawed, as is the casino campaign’s favored comparison: Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

Carey proposes a four-season casino resort in the Western Mountains, targeting the region’s tourists. Hollywood Slots serves a largely Maine-based clientele in an urban setting. They are, at best, distant cousins.

Before voters bestow a 10-year gambling monopoly to Carey, they must be convinced about its credibility. This comes through transparency, an enlightened debate about gambling revenues, and – most important – honesty.

It won’t come through the spin of LaMarche v. Bailey, winner-take-all.

This bout is still legendary, though. It might be the best in Maine since Ali-Liston.

But this campaign is, and must be, about much more than them.


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