I listened with interest last week as Maine Public host Jennifer Rooks and many of her “Maine Calling” listeners phoned in, emailed and tweeted questions to casino developer Shawn Scott and state Rep. Louis Luchini of Ellsworth about this November’s statewide Question 1 regarding a York County casino.

The program was very informative and a model of civility. Mr. Scott was calm, very articulate and quite clear about his “plans,” not what they were, but that he had some. Rep. Luchini was equally articulate and equally clear about why he thought that approval of Question 1 would be a bad deal for Maine.

As the hour proceeded, I became more and more agitated that – no matter how close the participants and callers skirted it – no one asked the central question, the most important question, the one that this perennial debate is forever approaching but never reaching. Then after the show ended, and I reflected on the infuriatingly incomplete results, I realized that the very structure of the debate – yes versus no – precludes consideration of the important question – why? Not “why a casino?” But “why are we voting on it?”

In response to all the questions about his campaign – “Why the secrecy about where the campaign money comes from? Where will the casino be located? What will be in it? Will it even be built? Will you just flip the license?” – Mr. Scott’s answer was quite clear. “This is the process you (referring to the Maine government) established. This is the process Maine’s two existing casinos went through. We have no exclusivity. Anyone else could have gone through this process.”

He didn’t continue this litany because it wouldn’t have served his purpose, but he could have added that this is also the process that Maine’s Native tribal groups and several individual municipalities have gone through unsuccessfully over the years for Kittery, Biddeford, Lewiston-Auburn, Indian Island and Washington County.

Rep. Luchini tiptoed close to the important question when, in commenting on the current proposal’s many failings, he said parenthetically, “had this idea been proposed in another way, for example through a competitive bidding process … .” (Here, imagine my disappointed sigh.) The confines of the call-in program format left listeners guessing at what thoughts Rep. Luchini might have added had such a competitive bid proposal ever come before him for comment.

Mr. Scott is entirely correct. This – meaning the citizen-initiated ballot question – is the process we have established for deciding if and where we have casinos.

Opponents of Question 1, which a few of us will approve or disapprove next Tuesday, can cluck indignantly at what a terrible deal this is. But to have expected anything else is both naïve and foolish.

People who succeed learn from mistakes. That the Yes on 1 campaign wraps itself in the mantle of “the tourism and entertainment” industry, emphasizes thousands of estimated jobs, unexplained millions in tax revenues and hypothetically huge flows of money to schools is hardly surprising because the “process” we have established requires no specified outcomes. You get the signatures, what you write goes on the ballot. You pay for the campaign and win the vote, voila, what you wrote is now “the will of the people.”

Similarly, that the Yes on 1 campaign minimizes the word casino, avoids any mention of specific towns or cities, says nothing about agriculture or horse racing and completely eliminates even a hint of the racially charged terms “Tribal,” “Indian” or “Native American” is entirely predictable. The people running Yes on 1 are politically astute. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t in “our process.” They’ve learned from past successes and past failures. For opponents of Question 1 to be surprised or indignant at the nature of the campaign waged by proponents of the question is short-sighted and stupid.

Having created Frankenstein, it does little good to whine when he periodically rises from his sleep and wreaks havoc on the village below. We’ve got to get off our butts, get control of the monster we have created and, at the very least, take another look at the wiring that makes him go.

The fundamental question before us today, quite apart from the outcomes of all the yes or no votes we will face in a week, is what do we do with this fourth branch of government we have created and that seems at the moment – at both the state and the local level – to be consuming nearly all of our civic energy.

Charles Lawton, Ph.D., is a consulting economist. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]