BIDDEFORD – Mainers on Tuesday rejected two ballot questions that would have led to the biggest expansion of legalized gambling in Maine’s history.

The vote leaves Maine with two gaming facilities rather than the five that would have been allowed if both referendums had passed. Question 2 would have approved racinos — racetracks with slot machines — in Biddeford and Washington County, and Question 3 would have approved a casino in Lewiston.

“I think the overriding sense of caution won the day,” said Chris O’Neil of Mainers Against a Rotten Deal, the political action committee that opposed both measures. “Sure, people want jobs, but they didn’t want to turn Maine into the casino capital of the East, at least not this year.”

Yes on 2 campaign manager Toby McGrath blamed the defeat on low voter turnout as well as opposition from the Oxford casino, now under construction, and Penn National, which operates Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

“It is the fault of two gaming operators who want to keep their monopoly in Maine,” he said during his concession speech at 10:40 p.m.

Supporters said the proposals would create hundreds of jobs and provide funding for a variety of initiatives, including economic development projects and support for the harness racing industry.

The opposition said that Maine could not support so many gambling operations. Their campaign was primarily funded by investors of the Oxford casino, and to a lesser extent Penn National. Both businesses viewed the expansion of gaming in Maine as unwelcome competition.

Voters rejected Question 2 by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, with 86 percent of the precincts reporting. Question 3 was opposed by 64 percent of voters.

The issue was a divisive one in Biddeford, but the “yes” vote on Question 2 won by a wide margin there, 4,137 votes to 2,684 votes in unofficial returns. The proposed $120 million Biddeford Downs would have been built on 85 acres of city-owned land on the west side of the Maine Turnpike.

Voters in Portland, however, rejected Question 2, with 6,815 voting “yes” and 9,761 voting “no,” not including absentee votes.

In addition, voters in Penobscot County voted 64 percent to 36 percent to approve a proposal by Hollywood Slots in Bangor to have 14 table games in addition to its 1,000 slot machines, according to preliminary returns. Table games will add $1.4 million in annual state and local tax revenue, according to officials at Hollywood Slots.

Stavros Mendros of the Yes on 3 campaign said he was disappointed by the results, but he promised to try again next year to pass a gambling proposal for Lewiston.

“I am not going to give up on my city,” he said.

Tuesday’s election was the eighth time in 11 years that Maine voters have cast ballots on whether to allow some type of casino-style gambling. Voters last year narrowly approved a ballot question that allowed a casino in Oxford.

The campaign was an expensive one. The Yes on 2 campaigns, bankrolled by New Hampshire developer Ocean Properties, spent more than $3.5 million.

Opponents of Question 2, which was funded in large part by investors in the Oxford casino, spent more than $600,000.

The gambling questions fueled a steady turnout throughout the day at the polls.

“The casino issue was big in my mind,” said Chris Mills, 40, who voted in Freeport.

Mills said he makes a point to vote no matter how significant the issues, but he has especially strong feelings against expanding gambling.

“Mine is more of a moral issue. It’s not such a great thing socially,” he said. “Places with legalized gambling, sure they have jobs, but it creates a lot of negatives.”

Other voters were more focused on the potential economic benefits of expanded gaming.

“If this doesn’t go through, harness racing is gone from Maine,” said Mary Mitton, who voted in Biddeford.

Gov. Paul LePage, speaking last week at Colby College in Waterville, said, “I do not see how five casinos in Maine can be sustained.” But on Tuesday he distanced himself from anti-casino “robo calls” that used a recording of his voice during that speech. Mainers Against a Rotten Deal funded the calls.

After voting in Augusta, LePage said he was angered by the robo calls.

“It’s a cheap shot to Maine people,” he said.

O’Neil, of Mainers Against a Rotten Deal, said his group had identified a category of Republicans who would be influenced by LePage’s views on the issues. He said the calls never claimed that LePage was opposed to questions 2 or 3.

“He’s the governor, and what he says in public is paid attention to, and it was all over the airwaves last week,” O’Neil said. “We didn’t misinterpret anything he said.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]