SCARBOROUGH — Scarborough Downs wants to ask the town’s voters, for the third time since 2003, to allow slot machines at the racetrack, a company spokesman said Thursday.

A bill to allow a harness racetrack to operate slot machines with the approval of local voters was passed, 86-50, by the Maine House on Wednesday and is headed for the Senate next week.

If the bill becomes law, a townwide referendum in November is likely, said Mike Sweeney, the track announcer and publicity director for Scarborough Downs. The bill would eliminate the need for a statewide referendum.

In 2010, Biddeford voters approved letting the racetrack move there and operate slot machines, but that’s now the second choice for Scarborough Downs.

“We would love to continue to do business in the town of Scarborough,” where the racetrack has been since 1950, Sweeney said.

Scarborough residents have twice rejected allowing slot machines at the racetrack, but the margin has narrowed, from 56 percent opposing the ballot question in 2003 to 51 percent in 2008.

Sweeney said there’s reason to believe that a third vote would go the other way.

“We have strong support from the legislative delegation from the town of Scarborough this time around, and this is the first time that has occurred,” he said.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill, L.D. 1111, on Thursday along with other gambling measures, said Ericka Dodge, spokesman for the Senate president’s office.

“We’re cautiously optimistic. We have some strong champions in the Senate,” Sweeney said.

Before the House vote, the bill was amended Wednesday to require construction of a resort with a hotel, a spa, a pool, a dining facility and an entertainment venue before the operation of slot machines could begin.

“I think that’s kind of great,” said Shannon Hay, a resident and business owner in Scarborough.

Hay, who grew up in Scarborough and owns Glazey Days Paint-Your-Own-Pottery & Glass Studio at Oak Hill, said she thinks some residents are resistant to the change that slot machines might bring. The change she fears more is seeing the racetrack leave town.

“It’s a landmark to this community,” said Hay, who worked at the track as a teenager.

Sweeney said Scarborough Downs supported the amendment to the bill, which also included a $50 million licensing fee.

Although Scarborough Downs prefers to stay in Scarborough, Sweeney said, moving to Biddeford “would be a small thing” to keep the racetrack running – something that its representatives have said will be impossible without slot machines because harness racing alone can’t compete with the two casinos in Maine.

“We have to do what we have to do to survive,” said Sweeney.

Mike Lester, who moved to Scarborough from Portland six months ago, said it would be a shame if the town lost the track, especially if there would be money from slots revenue to improve it.

“Can you imagine that being all dressed up? It would be awesome,” said Lester, 60, who likes watching the horse races.

But Howard Berg, who lives in Biddeford, said he assumes that Scarborough Downs would get a tax break from the town for the project and doubts that the business would succeed. Berg would rather see that money used for other kinds of economic development.

“I think it’s a bad deal wherever it is,” he said.

Bob Johnson, who lives at Higgins Beach in Scarborough, said slot machines would help the town’s economy and he doesn’t foresee any negative effects from the visitors they would attract.

“People would come to the Scarborough Downs area and then be on their way,” he said.

Regardless of which side residents take on the issue of slot machines, most of them share one opinion.

“It’s really divided our town,” said Jane St. Pierre, a Scarborough resident who owns Kitchen and Cork in the Cabela’s plaza.

She and several other local business owners said Thursday that they wouldn’t publicize their personal opinions for fear of losing half of their customers.

St. Pierre said she thinks most people are reluctant to talk about it in public and, because of that, she has no feel for which way a townwide vote would go.

“It would be so close again,” she said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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