Maine voters call the bet on casino gamble

Question 1 – the casino question – is all about the Benjamins.

Never mind the attacks and the dodgy language and the financial shenanigans that have prompted two investigations into the dealings of people and corporations behind the referendum question.

And pay no attention to the claims of new jobs, boosts in spending for education and support for veterans. They even say “everybody wins,” which certainly sounds like something a gambling hall or carnival barker might say.

The truth of Question 1 is much simpler.

A person signs a petition that is related to “An Act to Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County.” Micky Bedell | BDN

Question 1 on the statewide ballot is all about money. It’s a huge bet by some very rich people that by spending several millions dollars in Maine they can make a huge profit.

It’s a roll of the dice, with a prayer for a big payout. But it’s not crazy. It’s worked before, with the Bangor casino.

Shawn Scott – the only person who can benefit from Question 1 if it passes – has placed a high stakes bet that with enough money and the right words, voters can be convinced to allow a third casino in the state, this one in York County.

The potential payoff for Scott is huge. And frankly, the odds for success are probably a lot higher than they would be for the people who find themselves gambling away their paycheck at the new casino. The house always wins there, you know.

According to the Bangor Daily News and Maine Public, Scott and his network have spent about $6 million on Question 1 – about $4.3 million to get it on the ballot and the rest on the campaign. That total is likely to increase.

But the jackpot is huge: The gambling license at stake could be worth $200 million. The last time Scott made this play, in Bangor, it netted a reported $51 million.

The whole thing feels dirty. Like a scam. Like the dice are loaded and the cards are marked.

But unlike inside a casino, this time the house doesn’t control the odds. It’s up to voters to decide whether they will reward untoward behavior and allow our electoral system to be played like cheap parlor game.

I voted “no” on Question 1. While I don’t think anyone can dispute the generally positive impact the casino in Bangor has had on redevelopment and investment, gambling is a shaky foundation on which to build an economy.

If we are going to allow more gambling in Maine – and there’s already plenty – then it should be done thoughtfully and in a way that doesn’t allow the system to be manipulated by rich guys looking to make a quick hundred million or so.

It’s not often that I agree with Gov. Paul LePage. But on the casino ballot question, he’s right (that actually stings a little to write): “[T]he person who wrote the legislation or his companies are the only legal entities that can apply for the gambling license. This gambling initiative is not an open or fair process.”

The campaign has been marked by personal attacks and conspiracy theories that are unusual for ballot initiatives.

For the most part, attacking the people who support or oppose a ballot initiative doesn’t usually move voters. Claiming broad – and comical – conspiracies involving lobbyists, reporters and who knows who else, as the Yes on 1 camps has done, seems doomed to fail, even during a time when there is skepticism about just about everything and everyone.

Supporters of the casino have been tyrannical in attacking almost anyone who has questioned their proposal, particularly in social media and on Twitter.

The opposition runs a website,, that’s focused on Scott. It’s an oppo dump to make him unacceptable, for sure. Instead of focusing on the casino question and the cons of allowing a third one in the state, the website is dedicated to turning Scott into a villain. It’s unusual on a ballot initiative for both sides to be so focused on individuals instead of the issue at hand.

It’s easy to understand the play here for Scott. Put $6 million and counting on the table and if the cards come up right, it pays off $33 to $1.

But this time, it’s not the house spinning the wheel or dealing the cards. It’s Maine voters. They’re in control and get to set the odds.

And when the media in the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald agree with LePage, then I have to believe the odds are stacked against Scott and his play to cash in on the backs of Maine voters.


David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at