Maine’s off-track betting parlors, where racing fans can legally place bets on both in- and out-of-state races, have received $6.52 million in subsidies from the Bangor racino since 2005, according to Pine Tree Watch’s analysis.

But the funds — not part of the original referendum but added as an earmark in the negotiations that came after — came with few strings attached.

Pine Tree Watch called the state’s four off-track betting parlors and found that, lacking guidelines or expectations from lawmakers, each has made its own decisions — sometimes suffering unexpected consequences at the state’s expense.

Jim Day, president of the Winner’s Circle, an off-track betting parlor in Lewiston, said he used part of the $1.5 million in state subsidies his business had received to help finance construction of a new, much larger 8,000-square-foot facility, with the hope of attracting more customers.

A decade later, he’s not so sure his bet will pay off: The Oxford Casino, approved by referendum in 2010 and just 30 minutes away from Winner’s Circle, began siphoning gamblers away and his business has been suffering since. “I didn’t have the Oxford Casino in mind when I built the facility,” said Day.

Now, he says, the state funds are “critical” to keeping his business alive.

Of the state’s remaining three off-track betting venues, two are owned by Don Barbarino, a Connecticut resident. Barbarino said his businesses in Sanford and Waterville have been increasingly impacted by the competition from casinos and internet gambling.

“If we weren’t just fighting to pay our expenses, we could probably spend more on marketing,” he said. “Right now, it’s really hard to do anything but pay your bills.”

He said the state should do more to help the industry get ahead. “In a way, it’s not fair to put a huge casino next to a racetrack and say ‘Good luck,’” he said.

— Dave Sherwood


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