BIDDEFORD — On his way to the lectern, Ernest Lowell paused to set a horseshoe upon an anvil and pound it once with a hammer.

“I had to do that,” said Lowell, wearing a protective leather apron Monday morning outside a barn in western Biddeford. “It’s my job.”

Lowell is a blacksmith from Saco. He has worked with horses for 43 years. He hopes his grandson, a graduate of the University of Maine at Machias now studying veterinary science in England, can do likewise.

That’s why Lowell joined about two dozen supporters of a Nov. 8 ballot question seeking approval for slot machines at harness racing tracks proposed for southern Maine and Washington County.

“It’s going to keep my vocation alive,” Lowell said of a $120 million Biddeford Downs complex that would include a hotel and entertainment venue. “Without this, I’m fearful that we’re all done. And all the farms in the area that grow hay and grain and corn and whatever for the horses, they’re going to go with us.”

Before a truckload of baled hay and flanked by that anvil and a trotter named CC Bag o’ Luck, seven other supporters spoke to kick off the “Yes on Question 2” campaign Monday outside Al Dube Farm, where Cynthia Hodak raises quarter horses.

Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey emphasized the estimated 800 construction jobs and 500 full-time jobs (averaging $35,000 in annual salary) that she said would result from the project, which was approved by 59 percent of Biddeford voters last fall.

Sharon Terry, owner of the Scarborough Downs racetrack that would relocate, spoke of millions of dollars in revenue for the state and for the city of Biddeford with no increase in taxes. She described the folks in Maine’s equine industry as “fair-minded people of modest means but boundless integrity. Biddeford Downs will be a monument to them and their horses.”

Tom Varley, senior vice president of operations for developer Ocean Properties Ltd., described his company’s founder, Bangor native Tom Walsh, as a harness racing enthusiast who “used to sell door-to-door sheets and towels and blankets to the motels in Maine 40 years ago that were manufactured in the very town of Biddeford.”

As for the 1,500 slot machines that would come along with the racetrack, little was mentioned.

Don Marean, a horse breeder from Saco and former state legislator, compared slots to a mom-and-pop grocery store adding doughnuts or specialty bread.

“We already gamble at these facilities,” he said. “All we want to do is add a little something else to bring people to the track to entertain them while they’re there. . . . This is just a new product line that we’re offering with our harness racing.”

Dennis Bailey, spokesman for longtime gambling foe Casinos No!, scoffed when reached for comment at the notion of gambling as economic development.

“Casinos are in the business of scamming people, and this is part of their scam,” he said. “There is no evidence anywhere that slot machines will revive harness racing. In fact, the evidence is pretty clear slot machines just bring in more competition for the gambling dollar. You’ll see harness racing decline even further.”

Bailey noted that Scarborough Downs, despite subsidies of more than $1 million each year from the Bangor casino Hollywood Slots, continues to lose money.

Since 2004, after a racino was approved for Bangor, Scarborough Downs has received nearly $6.8 million in revenue from Hollywood Slots, said Henry Jackson, executive director of the Maine Harness Racing Commission. Another $500,000 is due by the end of September.

Furthermore, Bailey said, Maine voters narrowly approved a casino in Oxford County, and are considering adding table games in Bangor and another casino in Lewiston.

“Does Maine really want five casinos?” he said. “That’s more than any state in New England. We’ll be the Casino State. I don’t think Maine people will be going for that.”

If, as seems likely, three casinos and one racino are built in Massachusetts — where the state Legislature recently passed such a measure and the Senate and governor appear willing to go along — similar facilities in Maine would draw fewer visitors from southern New England, Bailey said.

“So this will be a regional slots parlor that just sucks money out of the local economy,” he said. “All those downtown businesses that are supporting this now, they’re in for a rude awakening. If this thing comes to town, they’ll wonder where all their customers went.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]