An Open Letter to the Scarborough Town Council:

As a former member of your ranks, I know how hard your role is and how challenging it is to balance the needs of the community. As most of you know, I was one of the first (as were some of you and your predecessors) to raise the need for an ordinance to protect the town from the inevitable onslaught of attempts to bring harness racing-linked gambling to Scarborough.

That pre-emptive decision has certainly been of value in maintaining Scarborough’s control of its own destiny.

Since that decision, we have been deluged with campaigns from Scarborough Downs, its associates or partners to pressure and cajole their view of the future on our town. Please excuse the expression, but I have coined the word “carass” (caress merged with harass) to describe the multi-year never-ending sales pitch.

Our community and its neighbors have held firm in rejecting the sizzle and hype that the increasingly expensive campaigns have presented. Each time, they are more willing and able to give and spend much more to entice a society struggling to make ends meet, in a never-ending attempt to convince us that slots are somehow good for Maine and Scarborough.

Bangor will be used as one of the benchmarks of the Maine racino successes (“promises kept” marketing blitz) and they will also point to a community in southern New England as a hallmark of success.

You won’t be given this information, but it is well-known what damage has happened to the businesses in the marketing area of those race tracks. Ask business owners in the already fragile economies of Waterville, Dexter, Skowhegan, Ellsworth or even outside Bangor what effect this loss of discretionary income has had on their business. It has been devastating to some.

Furthermore, you won’t be told of the fact that many of the “new” jobs in Bangor were replacing jobs lost at other establishments, resulting in a virtually neutral job market. So much for “promises kept.”

The proponents will have plans and programs to “help” problem gamblers affected by the racino (already significantly increased since the introduction of slots), but will ignore the less obvious issues that will end up on the taxpayers as people will spend next month’s oil money for the chance to “just imagine”.

They will again use the argument that Maine already has gambling, as if that is some justification for a racino in Scarborough.

They will ignore the struggling “mom and pop” restaurant or shop that made it work in a stagnant economy but couldn’t handle any loss of revenue taken from that marketplace. Then the ripple effect of those lost jobs and income, including the taxes that would have been generated in both income and property, is easy to anticipate.

The issue of Scarborough’s traffic challenges is an overwhelming challenge in and of itself.

These racino drivers will continue to spend millions to entice and attempt to buy our town. This is what “drives” me to write this letter.

There is no organized opposition that can put up a fight against the money and energy these people, both in-state and out-of-state, have thrown at this battle. And it is a battle to them. They can fight with the most high-tech marketing and advertising available and they seem to be able to offer everybody something to get support. We the citizens depend on you to use solid judgment to protect us from the powerful firms that attempt to take from us what is ours.

We can look to the work done during the ash plant battle of a few years back and the ability of having just one councilor hear the people and convince others to change what would have been devastating for our community.

One of the statewide no-slots groups refused to help us here in Scarborough the last time because they told us they thought Scarborough was a “lost cause.” A few Scarborough residents paid out of their own pockets and gave their time to attempt to fight the big money and powerful lobby. We will never know if we made a difference, but we tried and hope we had an impact.

Had Scarborough not had the restrictions it currently has and should keep on the ordinance books, we probably would have lost.

I plead with you not to allow this scheme to go to a vote in November, no matter how appealing they try to make it look, unless Scarborough Downs and its backers can get enough signatures to get it there on the idea’s own merits. It may take them another year at this point. They can certainly afford to pay signature collectors as they have done so many times before. (My advice would be to try to use non-paid collectors; it just seems more Maine-like.)

The ordinance has been proven to be solid and there is an acceptable avenue that the Downs and its backers should take. They have been planning this for years and I anticipate that they must be ready to roll out a massive marketing blitz. We the citizens won’t even be able to get our oars in the water before November. This is a masterful plan and I plead with you not to let them take our town this way.

I believe that the polling data and market research they have been accumulating for the last few years (and apparently have so far refused to provide the town) have established that they can’t garner enough signatures. They now know the best chance they have is to change the law on our books and then bury us with promised gifts and wonderful visions (promises kept, after all) in order to persuade the electorate and ensure that we do not have the time to mobilize or finance an opposition.

They are even resorting to hiring highly visible, well-respected people to do their bidding. I have no problem with that, but we the citizens can’t afford to pay for hired spokesmen or quit our jobs and work full time on trying to make the case to keep locked the one gate that has protected this town from being run over – the ordinance we have on our town records.

Make these people and their backers do what the people against the Great American Neighborhood and the most recent signature drive to ban beverage taxes had to do – get those signatures one at a time. If this racino proposal is so great a plan, that should be easy. This time, I hope it is done without any misleading representations.

You will soon hear, “Let the people of this fine community decide,” as the mantra of the Downs and the hired spokesmen. I agree. Let the Downs coalition and their sales representatives spend their apparently endless money and time getting enough signatures on a referendum request to bring it to a vote. If this goes to town vote in November, we the people won’t be able to react in time. Don’t make the citizens of Scarborough have to do what the opponents of the Great American Neighborhood had to do. Speaking as one councilor, I learned from that experience.

Sadly, the representatives of the Downs and their backers have even stated on numerous occasions that this town center project is only an option if it includes the racino. (I have never seen a quaint New England community with a racino in the middle of town.) I hope that has already infuriated you as much as it has so many people I have talked with. That arrogance alone is enough evidence that this organization has no desire to be the good community member it purports to be unless it gets what it wants. That is not how it works in this state or this town. We have a 350-year legacy of working together for the betterment of all, not just the powerful and strong. Please don’t hand them the ultimate weapon in the battle for Scarborough.

We cannot fight a power so large and aggressive, with so much to gain, with just a few dollars a handful of people and no time. They know that.

Mark J. Maroon is a former Scarborough town councilor.

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