Nothing for Something
Residents of Maine, sometimes called "Maniacs," certainly made a sane and sensible decision Tuesday not to build a $650 million resort casino complex in their state - even though the campaign to build the giant casino was fierce and, with $10 million spent to influence votes, the most expensive in the state's history.
Some $6.8 million in pro-casino support came from a company that built a number of casinos in Las Vegas. Labor unions supported the plan. Heavy voter turnout reflected strong interest both pro and con in the project, developed by Maine's Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian tribes. But opponents held sway with a grass-roots campaign, and the sound logic that casinos foster gambling addiction and crime.
Voters rejected the plan in a binding referendum, 67 to 33 percent. That's not to say Down Easters voted against gambling altogether - they did approve slot machines at two racing tracks in the state.
Casino gambling, thanks to extensive lobbying efforts by the gaming industry in recent years on Capitol Hill and in statehouses, has been seen as the quick-fix remedy to many a budget woe. And gambling interests are among the top donors to political campaigns across the country. According to the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, 39 states have lotteries, and 29 have casinos. Two million gamblers online spend money at some 1,800 Internet casinos each week.
In Maine, pro-casino lobbyists were touting nearly 5,000 permanent jobs, and said the casino would have funneled 25 percent of its slot- machine take to the state, estimating that at $100 million in the first year.
That last figure is mighty tempting for states trying to balance budgets. But economic strategies for states must include longer-term planning, not casino quick-fixes. And public monies should not be dependent on revenue obtained from an individual's desire or addiction to bet. The chairman of Maine's L.L. Bean company perhaps put it best when he told a reporter that casino gambling is inconsistent with ideals like perseverance, hard work, and integrity.
One perversion of the American Dream is the notion of getting something for nothing. Taking risks, like pioneers and businessmen and women who started with nary a nickel, can't be squared with pulling the lever on a slot machine.
Creating an interest in, and dependency upon, chance and luck is about the worst move a state, or a nation, could make.
State governments must look toward more stable and honest strategies to fix budget bottom lines.