Our Opinion: New England casino glut creates strange allies, enemies

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The cynicism and hypocrisy of the casino industry is something to behold now that we can see it up close in New England. It provides a valuable education.

Casinos in Bangor and Oxford, Maine are combining forces to block introduction of a third casino between Portland and the New Hampshire border. Part of the casinos' strategy is to join forces with Christian groups that fight casinos on moral grounds.

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend, I guess," said Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League in The Boston Globe. He noted that the operators of the two casinos, Penn National in Bangor and Churchill Downs in Oxford, will invest "without restraint" and presumably don't mind if the Civic League attacks casinos for bringing in crime and causing gambling addiction as long as it keeps a third casino out of the state.

"The casinos are the biggest anticasino force in the state, by far," Dennis Bailey, a public relations specialist who has run campaigns against casinos, told The Globe.

Like all casino operators, the Maine casinos have invested heavily in lobbyists and it is unlikely that the Legislature will sign off on a third one. Knowing this to be the case, casino mogul Shawn Scott is pursuing an end run by financing a referendum campaign and has collected 60,000 signatures in favor of a third casino. The secretary of state's office is now verifying those signatures.

The actions by the Maine casinos, once foes and now allies, is not unprecedented. According to news reports, MGM, which hopes to build a casino in Springfield, Massachusetts, is trying to head off a casino proposed for the vicinity of Hartford, Connecticut by sending emissaries to the towns that may host it to presumably warn of the perils of casinos. Evidently what is good for struggling urban Springfield is bad for tony Connecticut suburban towns.

Gambling dollars are presumably finite, which is why these casinos are working so hard to sabotage potential rivals. The financial struggles of Massachusetts' first casino, the Plainridge Park slot parlor designed to stop Massachusetts gambling dollars from flowing to the Twin River Casino in nearby Rhode Island, testify to this reality. Berkshire County and Vermont are able to watch these pitched battles from relatively afar, and must keep it that way. As the casino glut grows and the casinos' fight to survive gets uglier, the weak argument in favor of casinos grows weaker.


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