I’ve got this great idea for a new law. It would be titled “An Act To Give Free Beer To Al Diamon For The Rest Of His Life.” If this bill got approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, I could walk into any bar in the state and drink as many brewskis as I want on the taxpayers’ tab. Also, the public would be leaving a nice tip, because no matter what the minimum wage is, I still believe in treating bartenders in a manner that ensures my glass never sits empty for longer than it took leading Democrats to condemn Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s new budget — a period of time measured in nanoseconds.
Realistically, my bill and LePage’s budget stand about the same chance of passing unscathed. But while legislators will be taking the governor’s spending plan seriously enough to amend it beyond all recognition, they’re more likely to reject my measure without so much as a toast in my honor. Something about the unfairness of passing legislation that only benefits one person.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative method for achieving my selfish goal:
To do that, I’ll have to gather the signatures of just over 61,000 registered voters, many of whom will probably be drunks I find in bars. Then, I need to draft a suitably deceptive question (“Do you favor providing cost-free refreshment to a qualified individual of exceptional merit?”) to appear on the ballot.
Next, I’ll form a political action committee designed to obscure my intentions (The Campaign To Free Up More Of Al’s Money For Charitable Endeavors — Maybe). After a vigorous campaign funded by the alcohol industry (keep in mind that if I’m not paying, I’ll be drinking a lot more) and donors I’ll promise to buy a couple rounds (with what will actually be their money), I’ll celebrate victory by raising a tankard of the most expensive ale on tap.
Before you dismiss this scenario as the absurd musings of a besotted brain, consider a real referendum question that may well end up on this November’s ballot. It would allow a casino to be built in York County, but due to language buried in the plan’s bowels, only one person in all the world would qualify to own that facility.
No, not me.
The proprietor of this money machine must be “from an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County.”
That limits the casino’s ownership to Shawn Scott, a Las Vegas developer who started what’s now the Hollywood Casino in Bangor. Scott spent about $2.7 million to buy a majority share of a then-decrepit racetrack and finance the referendum that allowed it to add slots and later table games. Two months after winning final approval, Scott sold out to a big gambling operation for a reported $51 million.
Obviously, Scott knows how to turn a profit on a scale that negates the need for anyone else to buy his beers. But sometimes, he can be a little too slick. His various enterprises have been linked to dozens of lawsuits in several states. A 2003 report from Maine’s horse-racing regulators found his companies engaged in “sloppy, if not irresponsible financial management.” He’s been accused of using deceptive practices to kill plans for a casino at Scarborough Downs. And his efforts to collect signatures for this referendum were thrown into disarray last year when more than half the names on his petitions proved invalid.
I won’t even bother to mention allegations that Scott’s minions convinced people to sign by lying about the referendum’s intent, because I might use that tactic myself.
To date, Scott has spent more than $4 million on this scheme, most of it bankrolled by his sister in Florida. It’ll likely cost twice that to run a campaign capable of overcoming fierce opposition from the state’s existing casinos. Which means he’s expecting an even bigger return on his investment than he received from that Bangor deal.
My referendum is nowhere near that greedy. Even counting all those beers I’ll owe supporters, there’s no way I can drink up more than a million bucks a year.