August 11, 2011

Maine Voices: If new racino is approved, why should it be in Biddeford?

The offical ballot wording, which still can be changed, should offer the full range of locations available under the law.

Special to The Press Herald

SACO - As we prepare for another election cycle of advertising from both anti-racino and pro-racino advocates, it is important to ask the citizens the right question on the ballot.


State Rep. Linda Valentino,

D-Saco, is a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

The Secretary of State's Office has proposed the following question: "Do you want to allow a slot machine facility at a harness racing track in Biddeford and at a harness racing track in Washington County? (An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Deadline and Conditions for Municipal Approval of a Second Racino and To Allow a Tribal Racino in Washington County)."

The public has until Aug. 15 to submit comments to the secretary of state on the wording of the question. Residents of several communities have a strong interest in doing so, because the first part of the proposed question is too narrow. That is because the petition that was circulated and signed by Maine citizens does not mention the word Biddeford, "Biddeford Downs" or Ocean Properties.

The petition presented to the Legislature in the form of L.D. 1203, simply changes the distance a racino may be established from its affiliate racetrack from 5 miles to 25 miles and changes the time frame for local approval of a racino from Dec. 31, 2003, to Dec. 31, 2013. This is what the people will vote to change in November.

Since Scarborough Downs is the only licensed track which meets the statutory qualifications, Scarborough Downs is the only defined "player."

Scarborough Downs could partner with any or all municipalities within 25 miles of its existing race track. That means Saco, Old Orchard Beach, South Portland, Portland and Westbrook are also all eligible.

Each town could hold a local election prior to the November election, or within a year of the election if the question passes, in hopes of enticing Scarborough Downs to its location.

Also, there is no requirement in current law or L.D. 1203 that the commercial track must move from its present site. So, if Scarborough voters approve, they could apply to operate a racino at their existing location. Many things have changed since the original racino vote in 2003. Hollywood Slots was built in Bangor, and did not attract the crime, drugs or other problems that opponents predicted.

Owned by Penn National, it is a good corporate citizen, providing millions of dollars for Bangor's redevelopment.

Therefore, many towns that voted 10 years ago against having a racino may vote now to host the racino due to the substantial monetary benefit.

If the racino question is approved by voters in November, the horse industry and southern Maine will still get the construction jobs, long-term jobs and economic stimulus they are looking for, plus other towns would be able to offer their vision.

This way the best proposal for all the citizens of Maine could be chosen by the Gambling Control Board. Thus, the ballot question should not name a specific community for the racino's site.


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