The future of Maine's harness racing industry may well hang in the balance as the public hearing for LD 1111, An Act to Allow Maine's Harness Racing Industry to Compete with Casino Gaming, has been scheduled before the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs on Wednesday during their afternoon session which is set to begin at 1 p.m. (EST) in room 437 of the State House in Augusta, Maine.
This act would amend current legislation to allow an existing racetrack, operating without slot machines, to obtain a slot machine license if approval is granted through a local municipal referendum. It would also provide for the potential of that existing racetrack to move to a new location.
"All we're asking for at Scarborough Downs is fairness and a level playing field," said track owner Sharon Terry, "and a chance for a family-owned business with deep Maine roots to continue its proud 64 year legacy of being Maine's premier racing venue. LD 1111 is crucial for the survival of the harness racing industry in Maine."
Scarborough Downs has helped carry the water for Maine's harness racing industry for decades and, until very recently, raced annually more days than the agricultural fairs and Bangor Raceway combined. The Downs has raced many unprofitable days in full recognition of their partnership with the horsemen in the state and their role in providing a venue for the horsemen to ply their commerce and to earn a living.
Since the advent of casino gaming in Maine, however, the balance of that partnership has shifted. Increasingly, the track has been unfairly discriminated against by state statutes which require Scarborough Downs to race 101 days per year while Bangor Historic Track has a 25 race day requirement despite the fact that it owns the Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway and total revenues generated from the Penn National-owned facility has increased 10,000 percent.
Meanwhile, revenue at The Downs has decreased by 21.8 percent since the first slot machines were turned on in Bangor -- an issue that has only been exacerbated with the opening of the Churchill Downs Casino at Oxford-- making it impossible for Scarborough Downs to operate in a profitable manner. As a result, Bangor Historic Track's total gaming and stipend revenues are now 10 times that of The Downs, yet the Downs is required to race four days for every day that Bangor is required to race.
The passage of LD 1111 would restore balance and stability to Maine's harness racing industry, an industry steeped in the state's proud agricultural heritage. Lacking this opportunity to compete in the future means the certain demise of one of Maine's most historic icons.
Horsemen and supporters of Scarborough Downs will be in the hallways at The State House on Wednesday to show their support of this amendment of the laws on the books for a Maine icon whose future depends on it. (Scarborough Downs)