Almost a year ago, Hollywood Slots, owned by Penn National Inc., opened its temporary facility on Main Street. Since then, Bangor has tracked both the positive and negative effects of slots on our region. As Bangor’s mayor, I would like to share what we have learned with the citizens of Maine and Bangor who voted to approve slots.
What we have seen so far is largely positive.
Harness racing is returning to life. More than $15 million in new slot taxes have gone to various beneficiaries. About 130 new jobs have been created. Our Police Department has seen no impact on crime. Other areas of our economy appear not to have suffered. Hotel occupancies and rates are up.
Bangor’s racing dates have increased 57percent, from 28 to 44. After 33 dates, purses have almost doubled, approaching $1 million. The track handle has broken the $1 million mark, up over 20 percent from last year. The horse supply has increased over 30 percent. All in direct response to almost $4.6 million in racing support generated by Hollywood Slots. After decades of decline, the future of this historic Maine sport looks bright.
Tax revenues from slots are distributed throughout state government providing over $4.5 million to the State’s general fund; almost $2.7 million for prescription drugs for seniors; more than $800,000 for college scholarships; and $800,000 for agricultural fairs. Through September, Bangor has received more than $1.2 million, with most of this set aside to replace our antiquated auditorium. The city has also received $150,000 in new property taxes.
Hollywood Slots employs about 150 people, 130 on a full-time basis with benefits including health insurance and retirement. All but a handful of these jobs have been filled by local residents. Salaries are competitive and above those in much of our region’s service industry.
During the first half of 2006, regional retail sales grew 4 percent, slightly higher than the statewide 3.9 percent average and counter to the concern that gaming might negatively affect other sales. For the same period, lodging sales increased 9.5 percent, significantly above the statewide 4 percent average. Both occupancy and room rates increased, showing that the hospitality industry in Bangor may be benefiting.
Since last November, regional employment increased from 69,400 to 69,900, in spite of job losses at the Old Town mill. Our region’s unemployment rate was at or below the state’s for eight of these 10 months. We have found no indications that slots have had a negative impact on our economy. To date, Hollywood Slots has created jobs and attracted visitors.
According to Bangor’s Police Chief Don Winslow, calls for police service to Hollywood Slots have been lower than expected given its customer volume. Through September, the department has responded to 96 calls, most of a routine nature, compared with 179 to the Bangor Mall and 784 to a large local medical center. There have been no reported violent crimes.
Bangor’s crime statistics, supported by intelligence gathered by the Department, show no evidence that property crimes are being committed as a result of Hollywood Slots. Our domestic violence investigator and the domestic violence victim advocate at the District Attorney’s Office have identified no domestic assault cases that are related to slots gambling.
A portion of the taxes that go to the state are for gambling addiction treatment. To date, 25 individuals have voluntarily excluded themselves from Hollywood Slots, insuring that they are not permitted to gamble there. The State Office of Substance Abuse is providing training for mental health professionals who wish to treat this addiction, and, locally, the Penobscot Community Health Center has committed to training its staff to address this problem.
Main Street has been selected as the location for the permanent facility, and construction of a $90 million complex will begin in the spring. Short-term, this will add to our region’s construction spending and payroll. Long-term, employment at Hollywood Slots will increase to about 500, adding 350 new jobs. State and city slot revenues will increase dramatically, as will city property taxes and the slot revenues going to others.
This permanent facility will provide increased support to the hospitality industry, create spin off development on the city’s waterfront and along Main Street, further enhance the future of harness racing, and provide the necessary revenue to build a new arena in Bangor, a facility that is desperately needed to attract visitors and promote economic activity.
After years of fruitlessly seeking either a local option tax or direct bonding support from the state for a new arena, revenue from slots should provide the needed funds, without placing an additional property tax burden on our citizens. The city has promised to use slot revenues for this new arena, and it is a promise we intend to keep.
Some would like to roll back the clock and overturn the voters’ decisions to permit slots in Bangor. To date, however, Hollywood Slots has delivered on the promises that were made. Harness racing, on its death bed, is reviving. New taxes are going to the state, our college students, and the Fund for a Healthy Maine among others. New full-time jobs have been created – and more are coming.
Bangor needs your help to keep our promise to the people of this state – the promise to commit revenues from Hollywood Slots to a new arena and convention center that will attract visitors to meetings and offer entertainment and sporting events to our region including basketball, concerts, flower and logging shows, and many others – all in a new state of the art complex – one that our citizens both want and deserve.
Help us to reject any attempt to squash our vision or force us to break our promise.
John Cashwell is the mayor of Bangor.