They say politics make strange bedfellows, and there is no stranger alliance in Maine right now than the opponents of casino gambling.

In addition to the usual casino critics – people who think gambling is bad for the economy, bad for gamblers, bad for Maine’s brand – there are some new people at the table: the casino operators themselves.

It’s not that they want to outlaw casino gambling entirely – they just don’t want anyone else to have a piece of the action.

The out-of-state corporations that run Maine’s two gambling halls in Bangor and Oxford say that Maine isn’t big enough to accommodate any more facilities like the ones they profit from. Their biggest cheerleader is Gov. LePage, who agrees that the door should be shut on new gambling facilities so the existing ones don’t have to compete.

Sorry, but no dice. The government should not be in the business of creating a monopoly and enhancing the profit of a few businesses to ship profits out of state. As long as government controls who can get into the gambling business here, it should use its regulatory authority to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the benefits of the industry for the greatest number of Maine people.

No one – especially not an industry that wants to be called “gaming” – should be concerned about a little fair competition, and it should not be the goal of state policy to stifle it. If the customers choose one facility over another, that’s bad only for the company with an inferior product.

Maine leaders tried to ignore gambling for years and hoped they could keep it from coming here. Unfortunately, the referendum process made it too easy for the operators to get around them.

The industry wrote the rules that it would like to follow, including the percentage of the proceeds that it wanted to share with the state. The industry put the rules on petitions and paid people to gather signatures. The results at the polls were mixed.

Voters turned down Indian-run casinos in southern Maine and Washington County, a racetrack casino in Biddeford and the first pass at a “resort casino” in Oxford County. They approved a racetrack with slot machines in Bangor and the Oxford casino in its second iteration. Two out of five referendums passed, which is better odds than you would ever get at either gambling facility.

Now, instead of waiting for the next referendum, lawmakers have taken a forward-looking approach.

L.D. 1357, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kinney, R-Limington, would send two casino projects out to bid: one for southern Maine and one for Aroostook County. The southern Maine plan would require no less than $250 million in capital investment and a $5 million license fee for five years. The northern project would require a $25 million investment and a $1 million license.

If you are going to have casino gambling anyway – and we have it, like it or not – the state might as well control it for the common good. It may be that the market is already saturated, as the operators of Oxford and Bangor squawk, but the question of which ones survive should be left up to consumers.

If someone builds a better casino in a better location that produces a better return for the state, who loses? Maybe a little competition would force the Oxford Casino to live up to its campaign promise of building a four-season resort with luxury accommodations and outdoor recreation, instead of the grim slot-parlor it delivered after the votes were counted.

Gambling is still expanding. New Hampshire is considering building two casinos that tourists would have to drive by if they were planning to gamble in Maine. It may be that four Maine casinos won’t make it.

But whose problem is that? Like everyone else, these operators should produce an attractive product or face the consequences. Maine does not need to prop up another troubled industry.

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