Should Maine take the gamble??
By Nicole Allard
The arguments in favor of a casino for southern Maine are so familiar by now that there are many who accept them unquestioningly.
The Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indian tribes say they are trying to wrench themselves free of failure and economic dependence, as they often have in the past. They say a casino would be an opportunity for the entire state to improve the budget in the absence of viable alternatives. And, increasingly, they say that since Foxwoods, the biggest casino in the world, has been in operation in southeastern Connecticut, crime has actually gone down.
Let's take a glance at the impact Foxwoods has had on the town of Stonington, CT, (a neighboring town of Ledyard, which is home of Foxwoods).
In North Stonington, CT, since Foxwoods
· Traffic and litter has increased three fold.
· State trooper presence went from one to three, plus overtime pay.
· Closed two houses of prostitution.
· Inception of a pornography super store and smoke shop.
· Highest Gamblers Anonymous rate in the state.
· Embezzlement rates due to gambling have increased two to three times.
· Property taxes have decreased on routes to the casino.
· Now vacant commercial property on Rout 2 (main route to casino).
· Town's 911 dispatching fees have increased 40% in past 10 years.
· 30% of 911 calls can be related to casino impact, for an added cost of $15,000.
· Traffic on Route 2 was about 8,800 vehicles a day (1988), now about 24,000 a day.
· Wear and tear on local roads is estimated at a cost of $80,000 in taxpayer's money to repair local roads.
· In 1996 there were about 500 larcenies at Foxwoods.
· In 1997 the State Police Casino Operations Unit investigated 800 casino related crimes, in 1999 that number increased to 1,000.
The director at the Penobscot Nation Health Services, Patricia Knox-Nicola, says she "absolutely" supports the casino proposal and adds: "There are various forms of gambling allowed in Maine, why should the state restrict the building of a casino?"
The following statistics from Maine Department of Human Services; Bureau of Health, compare the status of Native Americans with the rest of the Maine population.
All of Maine Maine Native Americans
Average lifespan: 74.1 60.1
Population: 1,227,9281 6,392
Income per capita: $12,957 $7,840
Employed: 65.6% 64.5%
Unemployed: 6.6% 14.4%
These figures suggest Native Americans do suffer from institutionalized social and economic inequality compared to the rest of the population in Maine. However, Governor Angus King has also said casinos draw money out of the local economy and invite a host of social problems and associated costs that would affect the general population.
Let's take a look at the financial impact on the town of Ledyard, CT since Foxwoods was built nearby:
$5,098 General/social assistance
$370,000 Legal costs of annexation
$870,000 Local roads and bridges (anticipated improvements)
$330,000 Local roads and bridges (Improvements completed)
$49,864 Local zoning enforcement and litigation
$260,930 Public safety and traffic
$2,221,976 Total cost to Ledyard, CT
Meanwhile, the National Resources director for the Penobscot Nation, John Banks, says he is also; "generally for the building of a casino."
He admits that he; "doesn't necessarily endorse gambling as a positive way to provide revenue but says that most of the social problems existed before casinos were in operation." He has been to Foxwoods, and Mohegan Sun, and says: "I think they're pretty clean operations."
However, he does believe there are other ways to bring in more money and the tribes are exploring those. Banks also says a casino is not a last resort but would be beneficial to the economy of the state, not just tribal communities.
So, let's take a look at some other impacts casinos have had in America.
Drinking and driving has increased. (Troop E, responsible for the Mohegan Sun, and Foxwoods areas) records the highest DWI/DUI rate in the state of Connecticut.
A U.S. News & World report analysis found crime rates in casino communities to be 84% higher than the national average. Crime rates nationally dropped by 2% in 1994, the 31 localities that introduced casinos in 1993 saw an increase in crime of 7.7% the subsequent year.
A nurse in Reading, Massachusetts, worked double shifts to pay her husband's gambling debts. When she restricted her husband's access to money, he killed her. On his way home, after disposing of his wife's car, he stopped to buy more scratch tickets. (Providence Journal-Bulletin) A South Bend, Indiana man convicted of murdering a man for his casino winnings was sentenced to 65 years in prison.
A review of Indiana's state gaming commission records revealed that 72 children were found abandoned on casino premises during a 14-month period. A Rhode Island woman was arrested recently after police discovered that she left four children unattended for 14 hours at Foxwoods.
In the Foxwoods parking lots signs warn parents not to leave children in cars unattended.
Studies from the National Research Council indicate between one quarter and one half of spouses of compulsive gamblers have been abused. Domestic violence murders in about 11 states have been traced to gambling problems since 1996.
Ledyard, Connecticut's veteran tax collector was charged with pilfering more than $300,000 in taxpayer's money, much of which she was believed to have gambled at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Local officials say police tracked Yvonne Bell's gambling activity at Foxwoods and determined that since late 1997, her gambling activity there totaled $900,000.
Mary Andrews, co-founder of the York based, state-wide anti-casino movement Casinos No! is hard at work alongside York attorney Jim Bartlett, fighting to keep Maine 'the way life should be.'
She too is worried about Maine's deficit, but doesn't understand how a casino would help.
"They say the casino will bring in more jobs but they can't staff a casino with Maine residents," she says. "Other casinos had to bring in employees from other countries, leading to nearby schools having to teach and tutor in approximately 20 languages. What will happen to our schools?"
Andrews concluded that a casino was not the answer and would not solve unemployment problems in the state, especially when the casino would be located in southern Maine where the unemployment rate was around three percent.
Co-found Bartlett added that a casino would not produce any 'real' revenue. He claimed the costs to deal with the impact of a casino, based on research, were two to three times more than the money coming in.
Bartlett also said the impact on small businesses would be devastating. Consumers spending at the casino would not go to local businesses to spend more money; local businesses would lose profits to the casino, and inevitably have to shut down. He also argued that a casino would set the tone for all future economic development in the region and discourage most businesses from locating here except those that saw profit in serving casino clientele.
"We can basically forget about any other decent economic developments," he said.
He added that average earnings for people in this region were $30,000-$32,000 while average pay for entry-level positions at a casino was $20,000-$25,000. "Why would people give up that kind of pay to make less at a casino?" he asked. "Where are the workers going to come from? If they do import workers, there isn't enough housing for others to live here, which would probably make rents rise, making it even harder for the people who are already residing in Maine." Several calls were made to Barry Dana, Chief of the Penobscot Nation, for comment in this article but were not returned by deadline. Mayor Donna Dion of Biddeford, was also asked to comment but also did not return any calls.
(Published in The York Independent www.york-independent.com October 2002)