AUGUSTA — The House voted Friday to indefinitely postpone action on a controversial gambling measure, reversing an earlier vote and all but ensuring that a citizens initiative for a casino in Oxford County will appear alone on November’s ballot.

The 83-59 vote to table a broader competing bill, L.D. 1808, means that Black Bear Entertainment’s proposal to build a resort casino in western Maine will stand on its own merits.

The deciding vote came at the suggestion of Rep. Pamela Jabar Trinward, D-Waterville, co-chairwoman of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees gambling.

Two days earlier, the House had rejected the committee’s recommendation to kill the broader bill. Friday’s vote came as Democrats met to discuss the issue, following a brief floor debate.

Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, spoke against the vote to postpone action.

He had supported the competing measure that, if passed by voters in November, would have expanded gambling not just with the casino in Oxford County, but by adding table games to Hollywood Slots in Bangor and allowing the Passamaquoddy Tribe to go forward with a longstanding request to build a casino in Calais.

He said the decision not to add a competing measure was postponing a much-needed discussion about gambling.

“The issue, for me, is whether this Legislature has the guts to take on this issue, or would rather punt,” Fitts said during debate Friday.

Rep. James Martin, D-Orono, joined with Fitts to modify the amendment, after Martin had dropped his own idea to create a study group on gambling, using an expanded Hollywood Slots with table games as a test case.

Martin compared the complexity of the gambling question with gay marriage and asked his House colleagues to step up and debate the issue.

Other Democrats, led by Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, and Rep. Thom Watson, D-Bath, were ready to support a second competing option to the Oxford County initiative, to allow expanded gambling under a competitive bidding process managed by the state. Neither spoke before Friday’s vote.

The Legislature has the authority to adopt a citizen initiative as written, reject it or propose an alternative. If it rejects it, the issue goes before voters statewide. If it proposes an alternative, the measure goes to voters along with the original proposal.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com