BIDDEFORD — Six disparate groups that oppose the expansion of legalized gambling in Maine came together Thursday for the first time to speak out against Question 2, a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that would allow racinos in Biddeford and Calais.

The Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor and a casino that’s under construction in Oxford have “desensitized” many voters to the threats posed by gambling, and it’s time for the opposition to unite to speak louder, said Chris O’Neil from Mainers Against a Rotten Deal.

“We are getting off the sidelines and coming at it from many different angles,” he said.

Despite the show of cooperation at a news conference in Biddeford, each group stuck to its own take on the issue.  

Carroll Conley of the Christian Civic League of Maine said it’s “immoral” to set up a system in which communities benefit at the expense of families who suffer from the effects of gambling addiction.

Robert Fisk of Maine Friends of Animals said the harness racing industry should not receive any gambling proceeds because the industry is cruel to horses.

Mark Ferguson of Friends of the Oxford County Casino said the group has no qualms about gambling, but the proposed Biddeford Downs would compete with the casino in Oxford and therefore reduce gambling proceeds earmarked by that casino for public school programs.

Dennis Bailey of CasinosNo!, which has been fighting gambling proposals in Maine longer than any other group, rattled off statistics and anecdotal evidence that gambling operations increase crime and do not bring money to communities.

O’Neil said the racinos would not generate as much revenue for Maine as gambling operations proposed in other states, and that voters should reject all gambling proposals until the Legislature creates a better deal for taxpayers.

The youngest member of the coalition, Matt Boucher, 24, of the Ellsworth-based No More Casinos in Maine, said jobs at the racinos wouldn’t pay enough money to keep young people from moving out of state. He said the campaign literature and television commercials that tout the economic benefits of a racino in Biddeford rarely mention that it would be filled with slot machines.  

“They keep talking about building facilities,” he said. “You would think we were voting on building a bridge.”

None of the groups has raised enough money to pay for television commercials in the state’s two biggest markets, Portland and Bangor. But because the issue arises year after year, it’s almost impossible to sway voters on the issue with ad campaigns, Bailey said. Instead, the groups are focused on getting opponents of gambling to the polls on Nov. 8.

Proponents of Question 2 have focused on the message that the racinos would generate jobs. They say Biddeford Downs would bring construction jobs, support jobs in the harness racing industry and lure visitors to Biddeford.

Proponents gathered Thursday at Reilly’s Bakery on Main Street in Biddeford and hung a 13-foot banner containing the names of more than 500 businesses that support Question 2.

That message will resonate with voters, said Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for the Yes on 2 campaign.

“This campaign is about jobs, and I think that will motivate people to get out to the polls,” she said.

Mike Reilly, who owns the 101-year-old bakery, said the city needs the economic boost that the $120 million project would bring.

“Many businesses like ours have been around for generations,” he said. “We need a healthy economy so we can pass on the torch to our children and our grandchildren.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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