What will determine whether Maine becomes home to a third casino?

At the moment, it could be the determination of a major gaming interest pitching a casino as an economic windfall for a town or city. That determination would be subject, on a case-by-case basis, to the will of lawmakers and Maine voters.

The determinant should be a unified gaming strategy for the state that considers how much additional gambling Maine can support and aligns with specific economic development goals.

As lawmakers and Maine voters have considered proposal after proposal for new gaming establishments — and approved a select few — policymakers and others have made repeated calls to develop an overall gaming strategy so Maine adds gambling facilities in a way that protects consumers, ensures the maximum benefit to the state, and doesn’t cannibalize the existing market or hurt other sectors of the economy.

Lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday got a taste of how such a strategy could be put into practice.

That’s when WhiteSand Gaming, a consultant hired by the Legislature in the spring, delivered its analysis on the potential for expanded gaming in Maine. The firm, which counts some of the world’s largest casino resort operators among its clients, concluded Maine has the market for a new casino and resort facility in the southern part of the state.

It’s less certain, according to the firm’s 140-page analysis, but there could be capacity for another gaming facility — a small one, potentially operated by one of Maine’s federally recognized Indian tribes — near the Canadian border in Aroostook or Washington counties that essentially relies on traffic passing through the region.

Beyond the conclusions on market capacity for new casinos, the most useful part of WhiteSand’s analysis is its advice on how Maine should go about adding a third casino — if policymakers decide that’s in the state’s interests.

Rather than rely on self-interested ballot initiatives, the firm recommends a system in which the state forms an impartial, volunteer commission. That commission would then issue a request for proposals for, say, a southern Maine casino; strictly define what it wants; and choose the best proposal. WhiteSand recommends requiring a potential casino operator to invest a minimum of $250 million in its new facility and pay $5 million for a five-year operating license. In addition, the firm urges the state to set annual requirements for capital improvements and a $250,000 license renewal fee for all casinos operating in Maine — not just the new facilities.

When it comes to dividing the spoils, WhiteSand says it’s in the state’s interests to impose uniform tax rates and develop a uniform way of distributing casino revenue. The state’s two current casinos, Hollywood Casino in Bangor and Oxford Casino, operate under radically different revenue distribution schemes.

Perhaps most important, WhiteSand recommends that policymakers have firm reasons in mind for a gambling expansion. “At this juncture, with two commercial casinos operating, is expansion just a means of addressing an immediate fiscal problem, or is the state interested in integrating a gaming sector into its long-term development plans?” the report reads. “Is it about jobs? Is it about tourism? Or is [it] a combination of these goals?”

As for market advice, WhiteSand offers some prudent insight. A southern Maine facility, the analysis says, must meet a market need not currently met by Oxford Casino, which “offers the minimum in terms of facilities required for a gaming operation,” or Hollywood Casino, which doesn’t project the image of a distinctly Maine casino.

That advice rings especially true as the New England gambling market becomes increasingly saturated with new casinos in the pipeline for Massachusetts and, potentially, New Hampshire.

State officials across the country in recent decades have looked to casinos as a way to boost revenues and lift up sagging economies. But the casino boost mirage is increasingly just that: Casino revenues have fallen significantly and casinos have closed this year in some of the country’s largest gambling markets, from the Las Vegas strip to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to northern Mississippi.

Maine’s policymakers need to be aware of the limits to the promise of a new casino. If it’s still prudent to move ahead with expanded gambling, they need a smart strategy to guide those next steps.