November 6, 2011

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

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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

Now in his 80s, he is still as hard-working and focused as ever. He’s still growing his company and he’s never lost his dedication to Maine.

The Biddeford racino developers have promised that revenues from the track and facility will put about $35 million back into the state: A total of $32 million will go into the state’s general fund and there will be a guarantee of $3 million for college scholarships.

And to those who are either opposed to slot machines or are saying that we have enough casinos in Maine with one in Bangor and another under construction in Oxford, I say: Are you nuts?

Ever heard of free enterprise?

This is not a case of the “Field of Dreams” line, “Build it and they will come.”

No. This is a case of build one closer to Maine’s largest population, in Southern Maine, and build one in a remote part of the state, Washington County. Then let them compete in the open, fair, free-enterprise market.

And slot machines?

We have the lottery. We have pari-mutuel racing. Betting, gambling, games of chance are all around us, all the time.

Personally, I love it all. Before I was old enough to look a racetrack teller in the eye, I’d stand around the betting window at the Bangor track, waiting for some family friend to come around and place a bet for me.

When I was older, but still a teenager, I did odd jobs at tracks. I drove the water truck, jogged a few horses, sold programs and tip sheets at county fairs.

I loved the life around the tracks and their Damon Runyonesque characters.

As I traveled the country working for newspapers, I lived in cities with harness racing tracks, but none had the feel and tradition of Maine tracks.

The racino in Biddeford will be a far cry from the circuit I frequented in Maine many years ago. It will be first class and a destination for dinner, entertainment and a caliber of harness racing this state has never seen.

We have a Maine family prepared to spend at least $120 million to give us a chance at jobs, a chance to improve Biddeford, and a chance to preserve and grow the great Maine tradition of harness racing.

And if you look at a map from east to west and north to south, we will be giving people in all areas of the state a chance to benefit, as Bangor has and as Oxford surely will, from economic growth and jobs and tourists. And the state will get more money.

We need to approve Question 2. It’s a safe bet.

Richard L. Connor is CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. A newspaperman for 40 years, he has served on two Pulitzer Prize for Journalism nominating committees. He can be reached at:

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