Scarborough Downs is working to move its racetrack to Biddeford and build an accompanying racino.

The Biddeford City Council approved a ballot question Tuesday night that will ask voters in November whether they support allowing slot machines at a new harness racing track in the city.

The council voted 7-2 in favor of the referendum, which was requested by Scarborough Downs. The track has been trying to add casino gambling to its operation for most of the past decade.

Edward MacColl, a lawyer and spokesman for Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry, said Wednesday that the business has been looking for a new location since Scarborough voters rejected a racino there two years ago.

If Biddeford voters approve the proposal, Scarborough Downs will need a change in state law, by the Legislature or by statewide referendum, to operate slot machines in Biddeford. State law now says it may not operate more than five miles from its current location.

MacColl said no location has been found for a racino, which he said would generate an estimated 900 jobs. No other details were available Wednesday.

Mayor Joanne Twomey, who opposed the expansion of gambling when she was a member of the Legislature, said she voted in favor of the referendum after deciding that the estimated $5 million a year that a racino would generate for Biddeford would help offset the cost of a $35 million high school renovation.

Twomey said the city also needs the jobs.

“I cannot impose my views. I am letting the people decide,” she said.

Councilor Clement Fleurent, who voted against the referendum, along with Councilor Jim Emerson, said he didn’t learn about the measure until a closed-door meeting just before the vote.

“Something like this should have been publicized,” Fleurent said.

He said he also opposes gambling on moral grounds.

In November 2002, Biddeford voters rejected having the city negotiate for a casino resort complex — by a vote of 4,761 to 2,964. The city had been targeted by the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes as a possible site for a $650 million casino and resort.

MacColl said expanded gambling is critical to the future of Scarborough Downs.

“The track, in the long run, isn’t going to make it without gaming machines,” he said.

Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Casinos No!, said he expects Biddeford voters will ultimately reject a racino, just as voters did in Saco and Scarborough when it was proposed.

“They are going to talk about jobs and revenues,” he said. “So why didn’t Saco vote for it?”

A proposal to build a casino in Oxford County, which Maine’s voters will consider in November, would prohibit new slot machines within 100 miles of wherever the casino is built. Bailey said that if that measure passes, the law will have to be changed to allow slots in Biddeford.

MacColl said more details about Scarborough Downs’ plans for the racino in Biddeford would be made public before the vote in November. He said he doesn’t know what would happen to the property in Scarborough if the track moved.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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