Casino opponents have abandoned the recount of the statewide referendum in which voters approved Maine’s first casino with both table games and slot machines.

The opponents requested the recount after voters approved the casino on Nov. 2 by 4,601 votes – less than 1 percent of more than 564,000 cast statewide.

They ended the recount Monday because there was no appreciable change after more than 20 percent of the votes had been retallied, said Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNo!

“We decided we had seen enough,” Bailey said. “We just were not seeing any big changes. But if we hadn’t done the recount, we would have always wondered. After all, it was one of the closest voting margins in state history.”

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Secretary of State-elect Charles Summers confirmed Monday that the recount of votes from Question 1 was completed and showed that a majority of voters approved the initiative.

The recount took six days and involved about 132,000 ballots, with proponents of the casino in Oxford County expanding their margin of victory by 122 votes, said the Secretary of State’s Office. Ballots from communities including Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Biddeford, Saco and Cape Elizabeth were recounted.

The Secretary of State’s Office said the recount showed that 284,934 votes were cast in favor of the casino, and 280,211 against it.

The recount was the first for a statewide vote since 1995, when the United Bikers of Maine requested a recount in a referendum that created a mandatory seat-belt law. The group conceded after a few days of counting.

“Recounts are vital to the integrity of Maine’s elections process,” Dunlap said in a prepared statement. “Even when the outcome of an election does not change, recounts help to assure that all election participants can have the highest level of confidence that the results fully and accurately reflect the will of the voters.”

Even as the recount progressed in Augusta, Black Bear Entertainment continued to move forward with its plan for a $165 million casino and resort in the western Maine town of Oxford.

Black Bear Entertainment plans to submit state environmental applications next week, said Peter Martin, Black Bear’s director of governmental relations. The goal is to start construction in June and have the first phase of the casino running in the first quarter of 2012.

The company says it has received thousands of inquiries from job-seekers and companies that are seeking business opportunities.

Bailey said it remains to be seen whether Black Bear Entertainment can secure financial backing and find an operator for the casino, in light of efforts to open competing casinos in Lewiston and Biddeford.

CasinosNo! isn’t giving up. Bailey said his group’s next effort will focus on a possible legal challenge to the casino legislation.

He said there are provisions in the bill that appear to be unconstitutional, such as granting exclusive rights to a single entity.

“It’s like passing a law to give the right to operate gas stations to just one person. To allow this law, with all its faults, to take effect would set a very bad precedent for Maine,” Bailey said. “If the state doesn’t challenge the validity of the law, we will seriously consider a court challenge.”

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.