If Maine wants to give itself an economic shot in the arm, it will redirect the income it gets from Hollywood Slots from harness racing to higher education. Lawmakers looking into the use of the gambling proceeds should keep that in mind.

It became clear during last year’s budget debacle that lawmakers had a very vague handle on how much money was coming to the state through Hollywood Slots, and whether the harness racing purses sweetened with slot machine money were really improving racetrack attendance.

Whether or not the racing industry was really Maine’s top fiscal priority seven years ago when the referendum passed, it is clearly not now. Lawmakers are right to examine how the state’s share of the slot machine revenues is used and should make sure the funds are used wisely.

Maine’s top priority should be developing good jobs, and even a thriving harness racing industry has a limited ability to do that. An educated work force is the key to economic development, and scholarships to students who attend Maine’s public universities would be a more sound investment than enhanced purses for harness race bettors. Still, like every other department of state government, higher education has had to absorb cuts during the budget crisis.

Lawmakers have the ability to change the way gambling dollars are distributed. They should bring the formula in line with our real priorities.

 


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