RUMFORD – Though disappointed by the low turnout at Wednesday night’s casino forum debate, River Valley Growth Council President Rich Allen said that thanks to the debate, he better understood the issues involved.

“My biggest thing is its 800 jobs,” he said after the two-hour event that pitted CasinosNo! spokesman Dennis Bailey against casino spokeswoman Pat LaMarche.

However, none of the prepared questions asked of either lobbyist concerned jobs. They got into the topic when moderator John Hopperstad asked each to state which claim made by the other side strayed farthest from what they perceived to be the truth.

“The promise of money and jobs without acknowledging problems,” Bailey answered.

He said CasinosNo! concedes there would be jobs, but he argued job productivity would decrease at businesses in proximity to a casino due to the opportunity to gamble on lunch breaks.

LaMarche answered the question, stating that the No. 1 cause of crime in America does not come from gambling, but rather from poverty and recession. She said a casino would provide an opportunity for seasonal employees to get full-time work with benefits.

Later, Bailey again tackled jobs.

“When casinos come in to a community, they make big promises. If you look at the historical track record of casinos, they rarely live up to them, but they offer money and jobs. Pat had a pile of money last night (at the Channel 13 debate) to show we’re going to get a big pile of money and the casino is just going to get a little tiny bit. Completely bogus. But that’s what they do.

“If this issue was all about jobs and money, why are there no newspaper endorsements of Question 2? Why isn’t the Portland Press Herald, the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Ellsworth American, the Brunswick Times Record, why are they all coming out against this? That’s the facts that we give people. That’s the facts that people respond to. Casinos make big promises when they come into communities, but they rarely live up to them,” he said.

A bit later, LaMarche, responding to another Hopperstad question, said the initial pay rate at the Oxford casino would range from $20,000 a year to more than $37,000. The average pay, however, would be $35,000, coupled with benefits and full health insurance.

Bailey told people to visit the Hollywood Slots Web site and then decide what casino jobs pay. He said casinos routinely overstate averages.

Hopperstad, responding to a jobs-related question from audience member Brenda Espinoza of Rumford, asked Bailey, “How do we say no to 800 jobs in Oxford County?”

“Casinos don’t have spinoff jobs. The lure of 800 jobs, the lure of all this money floated around here is seduction. That’s what casinos do,” Bailey said.

LaMarche, however, argued that casino resorts do create spinoff jobs. She also said the job offer is a real opportunity for Maine workers to better themselves.

Growth Council President Allen agreed.

“Until someone comes up with another $184 million investment and 800 jobs, I think it’s a pretty good deal,” he said.

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