Maine to Vote on York County Casino

A tenacious proponent of a third casino in Maine, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, has qualified an initiative for the November ballot. The measure would allow for a casino in York County. Governor Paul LePage (l.) says the effort is being driven by “greed.”

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Supporters of a third Maine casino, this one in York County, have gathered enough signatures on a petition to put the matter to the voters in November.

The Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that the group, of Horseracing Jobs Fairness had submitted about 53,000 valid signatures last month. This combined with 35,000 submitted earlier brings the total to 61,123. Maine currently has a casino in Oxford and Bangor.

The casino would be authorized to have 4,500 slot machines.

Governor Paul LePage speaking on a radio program earlier this week, blasted the plan as driven by “greed,” and said the state can’t support another casino. He decried the “slow deterioration of your government process” and urged lawmakers to fix the issue.

Lisa Scott of Horseracing Jobs Fairness, who has contributed $4.2 million to the effort over the last two years released a statement that said the plan would preserve horse racing and generate 800 construction and 1,000 permanent jobs. The ballot initiative is worded in such a way that only a York County casino or slot machine license held by Scott’s brother, Shawn, would qualify to open such a casino.

Scott wrote “This project will protect tax revenues for the Maine harness racing industry – the owners, breeders, trainers, drivers and grooms that preserve the traditions and values of this valued agricultural industry – in addition to providing millions of dollars for health care and education.”

The wording limits license applications to “an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51% of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County that conducted harness racing with pari-mutuel wagering on more than 25 days during calendar year 2002.” The only one who fits that description is Shawn Scott, who once held majority interest in the Bangor Raceway, and who helped originally bring gaming to the state in 2003 in the former of the Bangor “racino.” By allowing slot machines at an existing racetrack it helped prop up that industry in the state. Scott sold his interest to Penn National Gaming, which opened the Hollywood Casino. Eventually it added gaming tables.

The legislature has recently defeated proposals to put a casino in York or Cumberland counties, which are in the southern part of the state.

LePage criticized the proponents of the initiative for refusing to put up $50 million in a fund to mitigate damages to the local economy if the casino is approved. The fund would be returned if the Oxford and Bangor casinos weren’t driven out of business.

This is the second attempt by Horseracing Jobs Fairness to put such a measure on the ballot. The first attempt failed last year after thousands of signatures were invalidated by the Secretary of State.

Now that the initiative has gone to the legislature, it can either adopt the plan or forward it to the voters. Usually the legislature does the latter.

Scott’s gaming activities have been closely watched in other states and nations. One of his companies, Bridge Capital, was involved in trying to bring a casino to Suffolk Downs racetrack in Massachusetts through a voters initiative that was defeated in November by 61 to 39 percent.

The legislature commissioned a study two years ago that concluded that the state could absorb another casino and that it should be sited in the southern part of the state. It could also support a small casino of no more than 250 slots near the state’s border with Canada.

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