The Saint Croix Courier

St. Stephen, NB

2007 Nov 6


Casino is a gamble

Our neighbours in Maine are going to the polls today in state-wide elections that include referendum questions on, among other things, whether voters support the Passamaquoddy Tribe in its bid to build a race track and casino in Calais.

It's a question that's been kicked around, and shot down, before but the tribe is sticking another quarter in the ballot box and pulling the lever. The tribe wants to build a multimillion-dollar racetrack casino along with a bingo parlour, hotel, and conference centre on 285 hectares of land in the City of Calais.

And while we have to hold our nose a little, we say,let 'em have it.

The racino question, no surprise, has become the most contentious question on the Maine ballot. Polls leading into the election indicated voters were leaning toward supporting the tribe's proposal but we wouldn't bet a loonie on the outcome of this one.

The Casinos NO! campaign — backed by heavy hitters like Maine's former governor Angus King and the chairman of the board of L.L. Bean, along with a big donation from Marden's — says a casino might mean more money but it also means more problems. Their argument in a nutshell, is that there's trouble in Calais City and that starts with "T" and that rhymes with "C" and that stands for "casino."

Supporters of the casino say Maine has already set precedents by allowing a racino in Bangor and that a "no" voted on Tuesday will send a clear message that gambling is OK in Maine, as long as the operations aren't run by Native Americans.

But Casinos No! says the Hollywood Slots in Bangor were a mistake that can't be repeated in Calais.The no side says crime rates in the city have spiked since the racino opened, though they aren't drawing a clear connection.

They also haul out the old anti-gambling argument that casinos are unfair and lop-sided and that all who enter lose.

We say, yeah, so? That's nothing we don't know. Cities have been built on the concept. Players know the house doesn't lose but they still roll the dice and take their chances. The responsible ones play within their means.

Which leads to another of the no side's arguments — gambling is addictive. Casinos No! says money dropped in slot machines or on the ponies is money that would otherwise be going toward tangible goods and services. Absolutely true. We see it here in Charlotte County with video lottery terminals tucked away in the corners of bars and pubs. But people can get hooked on liquor, smoking, junk food, and video games, too, and those industries haven't been regulated into oblivion.

Washington County is the poorest in the State of Maine. Unemployment is growing, highlighted by the recent shutdown of paper-making operations at the Domtar mill in Baileyville. Among the Passamaquoddy, unemployment is about 50 per cent and Chief Rick Phillips-Doyle says the racino proposal offers hope of jobs through increased tourism and support industries — restaurants and hotels, for example.

The fact is, gambling is entertainment and in 2007, casino gambling isn't relegated to Vegas and Atlantic City. People in the St. Croix Valley area who want to play the slots or bet on horses can go to their local pub, drive to Bangor, Saint John, or Halifax. Someone's going to be getting rich off society's love of [gambling], why not our neighbours?

In another year, a new bridge and highway system is supposed to open and it's going to bring tourists and travelers around St. Stephen and Calais, not through them. Business leaders and elected officials have been scratching their heads to come up with enticements to pull those travelers off the highway and get them to hang around. A casino, or racino, can do that and it can make Calais and St. Stephen, finally, destinations instead of drive throughs.

While New Brunswickers have howled over the tribe's involvement with bringing liquefied natural gas to the region, the casino proposition offers something the gas industry doesn't — economic benefits in places like St. Stephen and St. Andrews. One of New Brunswick's most famous tourist towns, St. Andrews, offers quaint shops, fine dining, and top-rated golfing. It doesn't offer much in the way of nightlife. A casino can help fill a void and complement some of the area's natural attractions.

A casino won't solve Washington County's economic woes, but it can provide a spark, at least.

If Maine voters OK a casino for Calais, they'll be taking a gamble, but it's one that's worth the risk.


© 2007 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.

The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB