RUMFORD – Ted Hotham hopes the campaign supporting a November ballot question to bring a private casino to Oxford County won’t hold back when it comes to challenging what Hotham sees as the false claims made by gambling opponents.

Hotham, a Rumford resident with a background in broadcasting, said anti-gambling rhetoric often goes unchallenged and it’s one reason Maine voters have been largely reluctant to endorse casinos here.

Claims such as slot machines are the “crack cocaine” of gambling and that crime rates will climb dramatically if a casino goes up need to be addressed head-on with facts, he said.

The campaign needs to emphasize things beyond slot machines and the other games of chance a casino would bring, Hotham told Pat LaMarche, spokeswoman for Evergreen Mountain Enterprises and the MaineCasinosNow campaign during a 90-minute public forum at the Rumford Town Hall auditorium Wednesday.

“The things like live entertainment and the acts, the above and beyond,” Hotham said. “You don’t go to gamble, you go to be entertained.”

An estimated 35 people showed up for the discussion.

Questions from the largely supportive crowd ranged from whether a more solid business plan for the casino would be made public to what the Maine Legislature would do to the law, if it passes.

One woman wanted to know what the casino would do to make sure the right message about gambling was sent to children, and another person wanted to know what casino opponents had to offer as alternatives in terms of creating jobs and economic development.

Rumford Selectman Arthur Boivin wanted to know what the casino would do to help local fraternal and nonprofit organizations if they lost money because people who play bingo and other games of chance held as fundraisers started gambling instead. Boivin, a casino supporter, said it was a question that came up frequently in conversations he had.

LaMarche, a former Green Party candidate for governor, was in town Wednesday to get exactly that kind of feedback, she said.

She, Peter Martin and outgoing state Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, tried to answer as many questions as possible. Patrick said he supports the concept but agreed language in the law as proposed is flawed and includes components that are offensive to the Legislature. He said a blueprint for casinos already exists in the law that allowed Hollywood Slots in Bangor and he believed lawmakers would fix any flaws to make the law work if people passed it.

Sen. David Hastings, R-Fryeburg, told the group there were “no guarantees” in the Legislature.

“There’s no crystal ball as to what the Legislature will do with this,” Hastings said. “But if the public has voted for a law, I would think very long and hard before voting to change that.”

LaMarche spent plenty of time pitching the economic benefits a casino would offer as another element in western Maine’s tourism economy.

She repeatedly referenced a book on the economics of casino gambling, which examines the impacts in other states. She said facts on job creation, improved quality of life and crime from other places, including Bangor, would be used increasingly in a sophisticated campaign that would include television advertising.

“The job of being against something is the easiest job in the world,” LaMarche said. “We need to take these issues head-on and say when a fib is a fib.”

She also said the campaign would focus on philosophical and moral questions, including the issue of control over how people spend their entertainment money.

The campaign will soon gain new financial support, she said, but she did not say where that support would come from. “We have several investors that we are working with,” LaMarche said. “We have Maine partners and non-Maine partners at the table.”

So far, the campaign has operated largely on loans from local attorney Seth Carey. The most recent campaign finance reports available from the state show the campaign operating with a $109,000 deficit.

Carey created Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC and was the primary force behind the campaign before resigning this spring. Legal issues, including a local assault charge that was later dropped, became a distraction, he said.

Carey was on hand Wednesday but did not speak publicly on the casino proposal.

Oxford County Commissioner Dave Duguay of Byron said he wanted to know who would step into Carey’s role and when that would be made public.

“The timing of knowing who or what we will be dealing with will be important,” Duguay said.

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