Lawmakers from both parties are calling for closer scrutiny of Maine’s $230 million-a-year state-run lottery, including determining if its advertising targets Maine’s poor, who are the state’s most avid players.
“All the legislators I’ve spoken to said if we were directing advertising towards poor communities in Maine, then there would be a big problem, and its something we would have to fix this session,” said Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who chairs the legislative committee that oversees the lottery.
The lawmaker’s response follows a Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting investigation that found players in Maine’s poorest towns spend as much as 200 times more per person on lottery tickets than those living in wealthier areas and that lottery sales jump by 10 per cent for every one percent increase in unemployment across the state.
The year’s frenetic events in Maine's statehouse mark a turn towards increasingly incendiary, winner-take-all politics. But the histrionics also underscore a more insidious problem: Maine’s weak accountability and transparency laws aren’t keeping up with the new pace of politics here, and lawmakers are doing little to change course.
This dynamic has earned Maine an F and a numerical score of 59, placing it tied for 42nd among the states in the 2015 State Integrity Investigation, an assessment of state government accountability and transparency conducted by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.
The Maine state lottery receives little oversight by the state legislature because, as one ex-legislator put it, the state is "drunk" on the $50 million revenue that ticket sales add to the state treasury and no one wants to question the ethics of state-promoted gambling if it might mean giving up that money.
When the state lottery began in 1973, Mainers were not buying tickets at the rate officials had counted on. The state’s response, which continues to today, was to spend millions on marketing and ad campaigns to entice once-flinty Mainers to gamble on long-odds tickets in hopes of getting rich quick. The lottery has more than tripled its in-state advertising expenditures since 2003. It now budgets $3.5 million a year for promoting its Maine and Tri-State lotto games, big jackpot draw games it operates with New Hampshire and Vermont. Continue Reading →
A first-ever statistical analysis of Maine Lottery sales figures and census data by Cornell University and commissioned by The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting shows that lottery ticket sales go up when people lose their jobs. For every one percent increase in joblessness in a given zip code, sales of scratch and draw tickets jump 10 percent. Continue Reading →
If the giant, ever-growing Irving corporations were to have a larger presence in Maine, what effects might there be on Mainers' daily life? Our final story in this three-part series looks at the Irving companies' growing domination of Aroostook County and Maine politics and the corporate giant's potential effects in Maine's marketplace, in the state's political world and, possibly, in the news media. Continue Reading →
"Expansion is the thing" was the motto of K.C. Irving, the twentieth-century tycoon who created the Irving family empire. An investigation by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting of the Irving-family domination of its New Brunswick homeland and of its growing economic and political influence in Maine suggests that this is still its motto — and that Maine is its expansion target. Continue Reading →
Several books and a Canadian-government report have noted that the Irving family business' power over the province of New Brunswick is probably unparalleled in the developed world. Our reporter, Lance Tapley, spent a number of days in the province, getting an unusual tour of the Irving refinery, and talking with both critics and supporters of Irving’s influence in the province. Continue Reading →
While the state’s public health efforts to fight childhood lead poisoning have been more successful in Bangor, Portland, Saco, Biddeford and Sanford, where the rates of lead poisoning have gone down in the past 20 years, the rates of childhood lead poisoning in Lewiston and Auburn remain stubbornly high. Continue Reading →
Part three of four: The 2010 law, the “Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule,” requires that contractors must be trained in and follow lead-safe practices that prevent the spread of lead particles during home renovations. But a Maine Center for Public Reporting investigation has found that the law is widely unenforced, a fact even the federal agency that administers the law admits. Continue Reading →
Part two of four: From 2003 through 2013, 1,512 Maine children, from newborns to 5 year olds, were diagnosed with lead poisoning. Starting this year, the numbers of lead-poisoned children will rise by hundreds more cases annually, as the state lowers the blood lead level that triggers a diagnosis.
Part one of four: Childhood lead poisoning may be off the front pages, replaced by trendier hazards such as the chemicals in flame retardant clothing, but the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has found it is still the No. 1 toxic health hazard for children. The problem is acute and persistent in parts of Maine, especially among poor and immigrant families. Continue Reading →
Irving Oil has stopped and has no plan to resume shipping oil to its Canadian refinery via Maine rail lines. The decision was made earlier this year and confirmed recently in an email to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. Continue Reading →