November 6, 2011

Richard L. Connor: You can bet on it: Yes on racinos will help Maine

One of my early attractions to newsrooms was the intriguing collection of characters and rogues who practiced their craft in settings that were mostly dark and dingy but somehow conveyed an energy that was both raw and fine-tuned.

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Question 2 on Tuesday's ballot, which will allow the development of racinos in Biddeford and Washington County, will help preserve a way of life for both spectators and horsemen, Richard Connor says.

Press Herald file

They reminded me of my days at the racetrack as a kid. The track was a place that not only offered an oasis for a horse lover but also put you in the midst of hardscrabble men and women who eked out a living in a tough and unforgiving sport.

At both places, the newspaper and the track, you found hard-working people who had the glint of adventure in their eyes, who relied on wits and talent to survive and felt no need to conform to the structure of society beyond their own environment. Those who worked there, in fact, often created their own society of friends who depended mostly on one another, exclusive of the outside world.

Racetracks, horses and horsemen held an allure and fascination for me. In Maine, there is a strong tradition of harness racing that is a way of life for many, both as a job and as a spectator sport.

We have a chance this week to preserve that sport, to help it grow and continue to be part of a tradition that makes us special.

Question 2 on Tuesday’s election ballot, if approved, will provide a shot in the arm for Biddeford and Washington County by allowing development of “racinos” featuring harness tracks and slot machines.

Have you been to either Biddeford or Washington County lately? I have, and they need economic help.

It’s that simple. Building these facilities will immediately create construction and real-estate related jobs and put money in Maine workers’ pockets. Once built, the facilities will need many full and part-time employees.

Hollywood Slots in Bangor says it has more than 400 employees and attracts up to 80,000 visitors a year. Drawing from the close proximity to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, can you imagine how many people will come to Biddeford?

Reilly’s Bakery, a generation-upon-generation business in downtown Biddeford, will have to double its shifts to keep up with all the people buying cream rolls and lemon meringue pies.

Through the years, I have owned and run a newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. In that town, Mohegan Sun bought a racetrack, put in slots, and now is developing a world-class hotel. The racino has already drawn restaurants to the facility, including a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The owners have given generously of time and money to Wilkes-Barre and surrounding communities. They have changed life there, for the better.

Ocean Properties will develop the Biddeford project and it has a long history of developing world-class hotels and other properties. If you want an example of how Ocean Properties has positively affected a single community, take a drive to Bar Harbor. The beauty of the drive will do your soul good, and even though the tourists are gone, you will see that the town’s best hotels are those owned and operated by a Maine family’s company, Ocean Properties.

Or go to the Samoset in Rockland to see how Ocean Properties restored what is among the state’s most famous resorts and golf courses.

My Bangor roots give me solid knowledge of Ocean Properties’ owners, Tom Walsh and his family.

I grew up hearing stories about the entrepreneurial efforts of Tommy Walsh. He built the Holiday Inn and he built this and he built that, the stories went, and then he expanded his business around the country and later around the world. There is no better example of a man from humble Bangor/Brewer beginnings who through hard work, incredible focus and grit became a success, improved communities and provided thousands and thousands of jobs.

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