Thursday, April 24, 2014
Voters in Biddeford are going to get a chance Nov. 2 to do something that voters in Saco and Scarborough have already done, and that voters statewide have done three times:
They can turn down a proposal to build a slot-machine emporium.
That's also what they should do, because no better arguments have been offered for moving Scarborough Downs from that community to a new site down the road than have been offered in the past for the other gambling proposals that have bit the dust since the first two referendums on the topic were voted on in 2003.
A plan for an Indian-run casino was defeated in that election, and the second 2003 vote, which passed, marks the only time Mainers have approved a "racino" (racetrack casino) plan, which promised to benefit the state's harness-racing industry statewide.
The people who promote the ponies haven't benefited greatly, however, as shown by Scarborough Downs' continued efforts to get its own casino. Two other slots proposals have been defeated in subsequent votes, one for an Indian-run racino in Washington County and one for Oxford County, the site of another referendum that's on the ballot statewide this year.
The law voters approved in 2003 permitted up to 1,500 slot machines at either or both of the state's two established harness racing tracks, in Bangor and Scarborough. But it also required local approval, which Bangor voters granted and Scarborough voters denied -- as did Saco voters when the track tried to get approval there.
Since that law's provision to let a racino be placed within five miles of the current track has expired, any new slots parlor would have to have a track located with it -- and get new approval from the state Legislature as well.
There's another potential hitch. Question 1 on the state ballot would put a casino in Oxford County. It affects the Biddeford plan because it bans other casinos within a 100-mile radius, and Biddeford falls well within that circle. Thus, lawmakers would have to alter the Oxford plan -- should it become law -- before they could even take up a Biddeford racino.
Meanwhile, the Biddeford plan, which was the subject of a planned hearing Monday, was originally passed by a 7-2 council vote without any prior public notice. That has left some local opponents livid, with emotions running high in the days before the vote.
Voters don't need to be angry, however. All they need to do is be resolute and join in voting down this poorly thought-out plan, as their neighbors have already done -- twice.