SCARBOROUGH — As president of Scarborough Downs, I am writing to make a few points about an important bill that is now before the Maine Legislature, L.D. 1111.
In exchange for a fair-market license fee of at least $50 million and subject to local referendum approval, the bill would require the Downs to build and operate a fully integrated, first-class destination racino in southern Maine, complete with modern gaming, entertainment, hotel and retail – a center in which the entire state can take pride.
Without the ability to compete with existing casinos, the Downs and Maine harness racing will fail.
Scarborough Downs has been a Maine institution for 64 years. Harness racing has been a Maine tradition for more than a century. Most years, the Downs provides more live racing than all other Maine tracks and fairs combined.
Harness racing provides employment to more than 1,600 Mainers, supports hundreds of family-owned farms, with tens of thousands of acres of beautiful, productive farmland, and contributes $40 million annually to the state economy.
But unlike slot machines and card games, operating racing farms and race meets is expensive. The Downs’ revenues are down more than 25 percent since the casino opened in Oxford, and they continue to fall. Plain and simple: Our industry can’t survive if we can’t compete.
Instead of fostering competition, current law outlaws competition and discriminates against the Downs and Maine horsemen. While the law requires the Downs to race at least 101 days annually, it prohibits us from adding gaming to our product offering.
Gaming revenues at the out-of-state-owned Bangor racetrack, with its detached casino, are up more than 9,000 percent since gaming arrived. Yet the Bangor track is required to race only 26 days a year. When table games were added, the casino was not required to use any of the revenues to supplement racing purses or operations.
The great tragedy is that rather than bringing fans back to either track, the detached casinos are devastating attendance and wagering. This was not what Mainers wanted.
To revitalize harness racing, Mainers voted in 2003 to put slots at both of Maine’s commercial tracks. But the law was amended, and the slots aren’t at either track. All slot machines and gaming in Bangor are at America’s only detached racino – a casino located across a five-lane highway, 2,000 feet from the track.
The Downs is the last small-market track in the country that competes with casinos but is prohibited from operating gaming.
Maine’s out-of-state casino operators know that gaming at the tracks is crucial for the industry’s survival. The owner of the Bangor casino just announced that it will bring slots to a harness track in Massachusetts, a project the commonwealth says will “save Massachusetts harness racing” by bringing fans and economic activity back to the track.
Although they know that L.D. 1111 would similarly save Maine harness racing, both out-of-state-owned casinos are fighting against it. Understandably, they want to protect their monopoly profits as long as they can. But they neither need nor deserve monopoly protection.
Each paid a ridiculously low license fee of less than $250,000, and each was approved based on broken promises. Both the Bangor and Oxford casinos were sold quickly – for profits of more than $55 million and $105 million, respectively. That money should have gone to the people of Maine.
L.D. 1111 will ensure that Mainers receive what the casinos promised, but scrapped: a fully integrated racino and a true four-season resort. And because of its location, the Downs’ project can and will deliver a first-class destination that positions Maine for success while generating estimated tax revenues of $75 million annually. Maine will then be prepared to compete with the new casino projects coming to Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
It’s time to end the process of ripping off Maine people for gaming licenses, to plan and build for a bright future while preserving our heritage and our family farms, to grow Maine tourism in a way that eases our tax burden and, most of all, to protect that greatest of American virtues – fair competition.
Please join me in reminding our legislators that Maine is big enough to treat fairly both the existing out-of-state-owned casinos and also the hardworking people of our great state. Please ask your legislator to support L.D. 1111.
— Special to the Press Herald