Pundits, professors and assorted deep-thinkers have been pondering the results of last week’s voting on ballot questions dealing with gambling proposals. The consensus: Maine voters decided to call a “timeout” on casino developments.

Voters said “no dice” to Question 2, which would have authorized racinos — harness racetracks combined with slot-machine facilities — in Biddeford and Washington County — by a resounding 55 percent to 45 percent. Question 3, seeking approval for a casino in downtown Lewiston, failed to hit the jackpot by an even bigger margin, 63 percent to 37 percent.

“I think it means ‘timeout,’ ” a Portland political strategist told the Bangor Daily News after the votes were counted.

Timeout might be an understatement.

The defeat was driven by voters in counties that already have casinos, according to a report by Susan Cover of MaineToday Media’s State House bureau, but the Lewiston casino failed even in its home county. In York County, which includes Biddeford, the margin of victory for Question 2 was much smaller than anyone could have guessed.

No matter how you slice it, this was a statewide thumping for gambling.

FADE AWAY?

So, you might be wondering, can we expect — or hope, depending on your point of view — that the issue of gaming in Maine will fade into the background, at least for a while?

Nope. Not by a long shot.

Election returns notwithstanding, those who believe that gambling can create jobs and boost Maine’s economy have vowed to fight another day.

Stavros Mendros, an ex-legislator and a Lewiston casino supporter, told Cover he’d like to see the Lewiston project go to voters again in 2013.

Nothing wrong with persistence. If at first you don’t succeed …

But part of the reason voters said no to the gambling propositions this time around, some analysts say, is because they are just plain tired of dealing with the issue.

Noting that Maine voters have been asked to vote on gambling questions eight times in 11 years, Cover quoted University of Southern Maine political science professor Ron Schmidt on the matter of “voter fatigue.”

“It feels like this has been an issue that’s been going on for years,” he said.

So it does. And so it has.

If voters need a breather, part of the reason is that state government has handed off virtually every decision about legalized gambling to the electorate. The Legislature could have spared voters at least one decision by authorizing the racinos in Biddeford and Washington County without a referendum but opted to pass the buck.

“I think it’s been a real failure that the Legislature and a succession of governors have punted on the issue of gaming and left it to lurch along from referendum to referendum, as opposed to having some kind of comprehensive state policy,” Senate President Kevin Raye told Cover.

We agree.

State government’s reluctance to get involved has led to a haphazard approach to gambling expansion that has overburdened voters, shortchanged taxpayers and left the gambling industry free to pursue its interests on its own terms. The system had been working pretty well as far as the industry was concerned — voters had approved gaming operations in Bangor and Oxford — but developers and pro-gambling forces finally hit the wall last week when voters said, “Stop.”

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Now, with no gambling issues facing the voters, the state has a perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board. Neighboring states have been far more organized in their approach to gambling and the results appear to be much better for everyone.

What Maine needs to do is come up with a plan. State officials and legislators should work together to decide how many gaming operations the state can support, how they should be authorized, licensed and regulated, and how their revenues should be taxed and shared with taxpayers.

Mainers are on record as being willing to support gambling as an economic development tool, but they demonstrated emphatically last week that they won’t endorse random expansion with no regard for industry accountability or the realities of the marketplace.

Portland pollster Patrick Murphy told Cover he doesn’t believe lawmakers have the “stomach” to deal with gambling because it’s a controversial issue.

If he’s right, then maybe we need some new lawmakers. Legislators are elected to deal with important issues, controversial or not.

And supervision of legalized gambling is not only controversial, it’s complicated — too complicated to be left to ballot questions requiring yes or no answers from voters who don’t have access to the depth of information that’s needed to make the kind of sophisticated decisions this issue demands.

Legislators have repeatedly tossed this hot potato to the voters. Last Tuesday, the voters tossed it back.