WATERVILLE — Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday he doesn’t think Maine can support five gambling facilities, just days before voters are set to decide the fate of two gambling-related referendum questions.
During a speech at Colby College, where he also took questions from the audience, LePage didn’t tell people how to vote. But in response to a question, he said he can’t envision five gambling facilities in Maine.
“I don’t see how the state of Maine can afford five casinos,” he said. “I’m also very, very comfortable in saying five casinos will never be built in Maine. The population can’t support it. One or two, maybe three, at the outside.”
While a candidate for governor, LePage didn’t take a position on gambling, but said he would support the will of the people.
Voters on Tuesday will be asked whether they support Question 2, which would allow a new race track with slot machines in Biddeford and one in Calais. Question 3 would allow a casino in Lewiston. If approved, those gambling sites would join Hollywood Slots in Bangor and a casino under construction in Oxford.
LePage also explained why he doesn’t support Question 1, which repeal the law that eliminates election day voter registration. He said he doesn’t believe those who say requiring registration to take place no later than the Thursday before an election would disenfranchise college students, minorities or the poor.
He said soldiers deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan must plan 45 to 60 days before an election to ensure their absentee ballots make it back in time.
“If those people can take 60 days while they are ducking bullets, I think the rest of us at home who are free because of those people could give up that one day on election day,” he said.
More than 200 people, many of them college students with heavy backpacks, packed the Goldfarb Center lecture hall at Colby for the event. LePage staffers, including energy czar Ken Fletcher, a former Republican state lawmaker from Winslow, passed out sheets of paper before the event to allow the audience to submit written questions.
Some students asked for more than one slip of paper.
Government professor Sandy Maisel selected and read the questions, which included inquiries about how the governor plans to address an anticipated shortfall in federal funds used to pay for heating oil for the poor.
“I am going to ask the Legislature to take some money out of Efficiency Maine to help with this,” he said.
Efficiency Maine, which is funded through a surcharge on electricity bills, regional greenhouse gas funds and federal money, is a program that offers incentives for businesses and homeowners to reduce energy use. LePage said there are long-term projects that have been funded, but that the money for the home heating program is an immediate need.
Also, college students wanted to know what LePage planned to do to keep them in Maine after they graduate. He encouraged them to see what jobs are available and concentrate their studies in those areas.
He said parents play a role, too.
“What we need to do is keep more of the parents here,” he said. “If you’re really stable in an area, you will get your kids to come back. And when they come back, you can’t get rid of them.”
Susan Cover — 620-7015