What’s the future of casino gambling?

That seems an odd question to ask in Maine, where the state’s first slots-only racino, Hollywood Slots in Bangor, last fall got approval from Penobscot County voters to add table games (blackjack, poker, roulette, etc.) and changed its name to Hollywood Casino to reflect its elevated status.

Another full-fledged casino, in Oxford, is under construction. So, even though Maine voters have turned down other proposals for Sanford, Biddeford, Lewiston and Calais, casino gambling is expanding in Maine.

Yet, where you would expect a clear horizon for those existing projects, there are cloudy spots that still could expand into outright storms.

For one thing, while Bangor’s operation appears to have a steady clientele drawn from one of the state’s larger population centers, Oxford is off the beaten path. Indeed, the casino there was promoted as a business venture that could bring growth and opportunity to a region where jobs have been declining for years.

Complicating the picture are moves in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the logical sources for patrons for Oxford once you move across Maine’s borders, to authorize new casinos there.

That could easily lead to what the casino industry (“gaming,” not “gambling,” they insist on calling it) refers to as “cannibalization.”

As a story in The New York Times Magazine last week noted, the pool of potential gamblers is both finite and is collectively nearing, if not exceeding, retirement age.

Saying that “anyone who has ever wanted to try a casino has tried a casino,” one industry analyst from Los Angeles told the Times that market saturation has already been reached in areas where casinos are competing.

“There are no new customers out there,” Michael Mezcka said.

His comments were part of a longer analysis detailing why the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere, Foxwoods, in Ledyard, Conn., is $2.3 billion in debt and facing significant pressure from “multiple levels of creditors” to get back on a sound fiscal footing.

Countering that effort is competition from nearby casinos such as Mohegan Sun (the hemisphere’s second-largest casino), and the prospect that New York and Massachusetts, where many Foxwoods customers live, are either creating or expanding multiple new casino operations.

Competition from newer Pennsylvania gambling facilities has hurt older casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., badly, the Times reported, with revenue in that decaying resort city down 37 percent since 2006.

In addition, the recession hurt casino revenues generally, as people had less disposable income. Meanwhile, online gambling, with poker leading the wave, appeals to millions of younger players who may never be drawn to visit an actual casino instead of a virtual one.

Nevertheless, casinos are big business, with slot machines alone turning more than 90 percent of the money bet on them over to their owners. In an industry whose goal is not to let a patron out the door unless every available dollar has been siphoned out of their pockets (a business plan stated clearly by the Times), states that host casinos have profited richly from them, taking in billions as their share of the “winnings” that customers lose in such establishments.

Still, as the example of Foxwoods and the Atlantic City casinos show, these operations can no longer be considered printing presses for money, no matter where they are put.

That means Maine voters’ repeated decisions to say “no” more often than “yes” are looking wiser now than some people believed at the time those ballot questions were decided.


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