Maine Studying New Casino Possibilities

Aug 15, 2014

A view inside the Oxford Casino in Oxford.
A view inside the Oxford Casino in Oxford.
Credit Susan Sharon / MPBN

AUGUSTA, Maine - Members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee meet next month to receive the results of a consultant’s study on the feasibility of locating one or more additional casinos in the state, as well as where they should be located. Lawmakers are optimistic about this study, unlike one last year that accomplished nothing.

 

Last year a special commission representing just about every special interest involved in any form of gambling in Maine met to work on proposals to set up a process to decide policy for any future casinos in the state. Sen. John Tuttle, a Democrat from Sanford, co-chairs the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs committee. He says that study was destined for failure.

"That was doomed from the beginning," he says. "I told the president of the Senate that, just by the make-up of the committee, you never were going to have any consensus. But I think that having the committee do it this time, having the whole legislative committee, makes a lot of sense."

Tuttle says this year’s study also will have the benefit of a paid consultant, WhiteSand Gaming, that has done several in depth studies of casinos and gambling in other states, including one for neighboring New Hampshire.

"We really haven’t had a comprehensive study of where the regions are economically, where the best place for the venue is for the state of Maine," he says. "If you look at other states, New Hampshire did that, the state of Massachusetts did that, Ohio, other states. It sort of takes the politics out of it."

Sen. Garret Mason of Lisbon Falls, the Republican senator on the committee, agrees with Tuttle. He says the $110,000 study will provide lawmakers with objective information on gambling as well as recommendations based on that information.

"Every study that has been done has been done by an interested party," Mason says. "It’s been done by a tribe, by a gaming company that wants to come in here to game. This is the first true independent study done by the state."

The study requires the development of a wealth of information. The consultant must determine if a market exists for another casino, based not just on state economic factors but also on regional ones. It also is charged with recommending where any additional casino or casinos should be built in the state.

The consultant also must assess how the revenue generated from casinos is distributed and what the effect is on other gaming, like the state lottery. Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen says other states have found that there is a limit to how much gambling can be supported. "Some states are beginning to discuss whether they have, in fact, reached the saturation point or the cannibalization point."

That is the point where one gambling operation starts eating into the profits of another. For example, one study indicated the opening of the Hollywood Casino in Bangor reduced the revenue to the Penobscot Nation from the tribe's high stakes bingo games.

While some lawmakers have expressed concern that the casinos may also be affecting state lottery revenues, which failed to meet projections last year, Rosen says that has yet to be proved. "I think it may just simply be coming to the point - we are seeing this in other states - that the traditional model of the lottery game needs to be refreshed and invigorated."

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee meets to get the consultant’s report next month and has until December to make recommendations for the next Legislature.