In a bit more than a month, Mainers will face a ballot containing two referendum questions that, if passed, would authorize the construction of three new casinos in Maine.

Question 2 would approve two of them. The first would be a casino linked to a harness racing track, both operated by the current owners of Scarborough Downs in partnership with Ocean Properties, Inc., a recreation property/hotel development and management firm.

Because Scarborough voters have twice turned down a casino co-located with the track, however, the measure’s sponsors would be eligible to build a racetrack/casino complex anywhere within 25 miles of the present track’s site.

And since Biddeford voters have given approval to a “racino” there, that town is deemed nearly certain to be the home of the new slots emporium — although there is nothing in the referendum question saying that, and voters in Biddeford would have to approve it again, although that outcome is likely.

The other half of the question would let the Passamaquoddy Indians build a casino in Washington County (Calais is a potential site), with the idea that the state’s poorest county and least prosperous ethnic group could benefit, luring some U.S. trade but aiming primarily at drawing Canadians as patrons.

Then there’s Question 3, which would authorize the conversion of a shuttered mill building in downtown Lewiston into a full-fledged casino, including “table games” like poker and roulette, without any link to a harness racing track.

Thus the questions tie together every strand of history involved in the efforts by many groups to bring casino-style gambling to Maine.

When voters turned down a Penobscot effort to build a full-fledged casino and resort in southern Maine (a site in South Sanford was widely mentioned in the media, but wasn’t part of the ballot question) in 2003, they approved a second question authorizing two slots-only “racinos” at the state’s two full-time harness racing tracks, in Bangor and Scarborough.

It was clear at the time that voters found the scale of the Penobscot proposal daunting, but support for harness racing, a historic state pastime, carried the day narrowly for the second question. Thus it’s no accident that a video produced by backers of the Scarborough Downs proposal shows horses frolicking in a verdant pasture on its cover, rather than slot machines dinging and flashing in a windowless casino.

Shortly after the 2003 vote, Bangor voters approved what became Hollywood Slots, but Scarborough said “no thanks” to Scarborough Downs’ casino — as did every other community within the 5-mile radius authorized in the 2003 question.

The question also put a time limit on such expansions, and that expired the next month.

Some people may be wondering why the question of casinos keeps coming up for a vote, after being on the ballot in 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2010 — when a second casino, this time with table games, was finally approved in the town of Oxford.

There are two principal reasons — the first being that in a bad economy, any jobs look like “good jobs,” so the incentive for voters is to do their unemployed fellow citizens a favor.

The second is that powerful interests profit greatly from gambling, and from their perspective, there is no such thing as “bad profits,” no matter whose pockets they come from.

So voters were promised a $165 million casino, conference center, resort and spa, all in the tiny town of Oxford, bringing in $60 million in receipts a year.

But how likely is that — especially since if the Lewiston proposal passes, table games will also be available there, and if a Penobscot County referendum passes, Hollywood Slots will have them, too? Who will drive from the south past Biddeford to gamble in Oxford? Who will drive from the rest of the state past Bangor and Lewiston?

It would be greatly ironic if Maine voters, in trying to “help” the economically stressed, subverted their support for Oxford by extending the same “favor” to Biddeford, Lewiston and Calais.

With resorts in Pennsylvania now attracting much of the business that used to go to Atlantic City casinos, those facilities are discovering that the amount of money people will spend on gambling is finite.

Will the same dynamic play out in Maine? Certainly, no one should be surprised if it does.

I still remember the fall of 2003, when this paper sent me to Ledyard, Conn., to talk to local officials about the impact of Foxwoods on their tiny, leaf-shaded community — which found itself with issues of crime, addiction, poverty and other problems that many of its citizens never anticipated.

Maine lawmakers are being criticized now for not passing laws regulating (and heavily taxing) new casinos instead of leaving it up to the random referendum process.

Still, some of us had hoped that if Maine said “no” enough times, Big Gambling would give up and move on — but it didn’t.

Yes, Mainers still have a chance to defeat both questions. But the perennial lure of “easy” money is hard to resist, especially when we won’t find out for years if it’s real or not.

Hey, at least the horses can continue to frolic.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at: [email protected]