Maine voters will have a familiar item on their election ballots in November: a referendum to open a gambling facility, this time in Oxford County.

This will be the fifth such question to go to the voters since 2003, when the electorate delivered a split decision, approving one measure that led eventually to Hollywood Slots in Bangor, but rejecting an Indian-run operation in Sanford.

This time, the question comes up in a different environment. If an Oxford County casino ever gets approved, it will have a lot of competition.

Late last month, the Massachusetts Legislature approved plans for the state’s first gambling halls, which are expected to compete with two tribal casinos in Connecticut and racetrack casinos in Rhode Island.

Ohio has approved casinos, Delaware has expanded the games played at its racetracks, and Maryland will open its first casino competing with the casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. In all, the Northeast has 41 casinos with 20 others planned.

What all that means is that any gambling in Maine will be done in a highly competitive environment. People will travel to Maine for all the reasons that people have always wanted to come here and may choose to gamble if they are given the opportunity. But all the competition means that fewer people will be attracted to the state solely because it has gambling opportunities.

Visitors to Maine will be driving by casinos in almost every state they pass to get here, so it will take more than slots to keep them coming.

The economy is bleak, and any business that promises to create jobs will get a sympathetic look from Maine voters. But voters should consider the competition when they make their choice, and remember that if visitors don’t provide the bulk of the gambling business, local people will, and local economies will suffer.

 


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