AUGUSTA — A State House lobbyist representing the company behind a proposed York County casino says he was mistaken when he told a legislative committee in March that he was working for a Saipan-based company linked to controversial gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott.

That lobbyist, Daniel Riley, wrote to the chairmen of the legislative committee that oversees gambling in Maine and told them that he was actually hired by a different company, and that he doesn’t know who owns it.

Riley’s unusual letter adds to the questions about who is bankrolling the casino initiative and who might ultimately benefit if voters approve it in November, lawmakers on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee said on Monday.

“If anybody is going to profit from these casinos, it should be people in Maine. We should at least know where they are and who they are,” said Sen. Ron Collins, R-Wells, a member of the committee.

Riley, a veteran State House lobbyist, has declined to comment to the media on behalf of the casino client in the past and he did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The casino proposal is headed for a statewide referendum in November after backers, on their second attempt, collected enough voter signatures in January to force the vote. The Legislature has the authority to adopt the proposal without a referendum, but it is certain to send it to Maine voters as it has with similar initiatives in the past.

Collins and other lawmakers already have been critical of the lack of information about who is behind the well-funded effort. The petition initiative also has drawn sharp criticism because, as written, only Shawn Scott or his associates would be allowed to build the casino.

Scott was behind the effort to bring a racino to Bangor more than a decade ago. Immediately after winning at the ballot box, Scott sold the casino license to Penn National for $51 million. The initiative that is now headed toward a November referendum includes language limiting applications for the casino license to be only “from an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County.”

While that language links the effort to Shawn Scott and his associates, it’s not clear what entities are financing the initiative and who owns them.

Riley’s letter to lawmakers raises more questions about the backers.

Riley wrote that he spoke in error when he said in March he was representing Bridge Capital, a Northern Mariana Islands-based company that lists Scott among its principal officers. Riley identified Bridge Capital during unusual testimony in which he said he had been hired just hours before with little information, and that he would have to get back to lawmakers with answers to questions they raised about Shawn Scott’s connection to the casino push.

But in his letter dated April 28, Riley said that he was actually hired by another company called Universal Capital. Riley wrote that he does not know who owns Universal Capital.

“We had assumed and understood that Universal Capital was a single-purpose limited liability company and a subsidiary of Bridge Capital,” Riley wrote. “We have no knowledge, however, of the actual ownership of membership interests in Universal Capital.”

Later in the two-page letter, he said the confusion stemmed from the fact that there had been some crossover of personnel between Bridge Capital and Universal Capital.

Riley wrote that the law firm where he works, Norman Hanson DeTroy, had done previous real estate work for Universal Capital and later began discussions about working on the casino campaign as lobbyists. “We had believed that we had also served as counsel to Bridge Capital because the people with whom we were dealing on the real estate and potential lobbying matters included owners, executives or employees of Bridge Capital,” he wrote.

Riley’s letter does not spell out the relationship between Bridge Capital and Universal Capital, except that some representatives are connected to both companies. It also does not address Shawn Scott’s role in the initiative or the role of his sister, Lisa Scott, a Florida real estate developer listed among the backers who have put $4.3 million into the casino initiative.

Riley’s announcement in March that he represented Bridge Capital led Committee Chairman Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, to express strong reservations about the ballot question and the players behind it, citing reports that one of Bridge Capital’s casinos in Laos had been seized by the government amid a corruption investigation.

A news release on Bridge Capital’s website says the company was cleared of wrongdoing by a federal court in the Northern Mariana Islands, suggesting the allegations against Bridge Capital were trumped up because the company did not pay bribes to foreign governments. According to its website, Bridge Capital is based on the island of Saipan, a U.S. territory south of Japan.

Riley’s letter arrived nearly a month after he first told lawmakers he was working for Bridge Capital, but just one day after Mason and his committee co-chairman, Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, called on the state’s ethics commission to investigate Horseracing Jobs Fairness, the ballot question committee, and its backers because of possible reporting violations.

According to ethics commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne, Horseracing Jobs Fairness may have violated state law based on the way it reported its finances. The campaign has since amended nearly all of its campaign finance reports in order to comply, while Lisa Scott and her companies also have registered with the commission as new ballot question committees.

The ballot question committee could face penalties or fines for filing late or intentionally misleading disclosures. If the state’s ethics commission chooses to do so, it could fine the backers of the campaign as much as $4 million, even if the misrepresentation was by mistake.

Mason said the letter from Riley only raises more concerns about the initiative.

“What it seems like to me is this issue is way bigger than we thought,” Mason said. “After Rep. Luchini and I sent a letter to the ethics commission asking them to look into this, we have seen so many things happen. We have seen amended ethics reports, we’ve seen the Dan Riley letter, we’ve seen new capital funds come to light. There are millions of dollars at stake here for someone. We are starting to see more players in the mix, but we are going to have to wait and see until the ethics commission does some more work.”

Luchini agreed. “Everything is done in secrecy and they have violated so many rules along the way that it raises tons of questions,” he said.

The casino initiative also is fueling legislative responses.

Collins has sponsored a bill that would limit the sale of the casino license if it passes, which would force the backers to undergo stringent licensing review rather than simply cashing out and moving on.

Several other bills are currently before the Legislature to change the initiative process, which some argue is too easy to manipulate for well-funded interest groups. One bill calls for a state constitutional amendment changing signature requirements, while another would set up public financing for ballot question committees in an attempt to level the political playing field against well-financed out-of-state entities.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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