Gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott said Tuesday that Maine voters should focus on the economic potential of his bid to build a casino in York County, not on the high-profile controversy he blames on a rival.

“All we should be talking about is the merit of this project and what this investment will mean to Maine,” Scott told reporters in Portland. “Unfortunately, we are not doing that. The Oxford Casino decided to make this personal and take the focus off of the merits of this proposal.”

A spokesman for the opposition campaign, meanwhile, countered that Scott “is not interested in a debate, he is interested in a complete smokescreen.”

Mainers will go to the polls next Tuesday to decide whether to authorize a third casino in Maine. But the timing of Tuesday’s news conference likely had as much, if not more, to do with events taking place at the same time 55 miles up the road.

The treasurer of the casino’s initial campaign and Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott, testified Tuesday before the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. Ethics commission staff and board members are investigating the complex web of sources of the campaign’s finances and whether the campaign broke disclosure or filing rules.

Neither Scott nor his supporters mentioned the ethics commission hearing except when asked. Instead, the Question 1 supporters – including representatives of two trade unions whose members would help build the estimated $200 million facility – touted the jobs and economic activity projected from a southern Maine casino.

Progress for Maine, the campaign behind Question 1, estimates the project will create 2,100 jobs and generate $45 million in tax revenue annually.

John Leavitt, regional business manager for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, pointed to the economic development and jobs tied to Hollywood Casino in Bangor and Oxford Casino in Oxford. Leavitt called the proposed York County casino – whose exact location has not been determined – “a great project and a beautiful building” that will create both construction jobs and good-paying permanent jobs.

OPPOSITION TO ‘SHADY SHAWN’

“I’ve heard the accusations, but I met with the man and his team and I found them to be unfounded, to put it politely,” Leavitt said. “We’ve done our own investigations. We are looking forward to working with these people. We have a signed agreement that we will support them throughout this process and hopefully build this project.”

The York County casino campaign already ranks among the most expensive ballot initiatives in Maine history.

The two political organizations behind Question 1 on the statewide ballot – Horseracing Jobs Fairness and Progress for Maine – have spent more than $8.3 million on the campaign, according to financial reports filed with the ethics commission. The political action committee leading the fight against Question 1, A Bad Deal for Maine, had spent over $650,000 so far on a campaign that has dubbed Scott “Shady Shawn.”

Oxford Casino has contributed $700,000 to the A Bad Deal for Maine PAC.

Scott and the other principal backer of the York County casino proposal, David Wilson, directed much of their criticism at Oxford Casino and its owner, Kentucky-based Churchill Downs.

“They are not doing this to protect the people of Maine. They are doing this to protect their profits, to protect their money,” said Scott, who bankrolled the 2003 referendum that authorized a gambling facility in Bangor. “It is time for them to come out of the dark-money shadows. This project will make Maine stronger and create good jobs for Maine people.”

Roy Lenardson, treasurer and director of A Bad Deal for Maine, acknowledged that Churchill Downs opposes the York County proposal in part because it will inevitably divert some would-be Oxford visitors to York County.

“We think that is a debate worth having,” Lenardson said. “Do you want to take jobs from a rural part of western Maine, scoop them up and move them to the Saco-Biddeford area?”

As for Scott’s repeated assertions that the opposition PAC was “lying” about him and his associates, Lenardson said A Bad Deal for Maine merely posted details of the publicly aired problems Scott and his businesses have had from Louisiana to Nevada.

‘FLIPPED’ OTHER GAMBLING LICENSES

Lenardson said both Churchill Downs and Penn National, which owns Bangor’s Hollywood Casino, are publicly traded companies. Lenardson said Maine’s two existing casinos have operated “relatively problem-free” and Churchill Downs dislikes the idea of potentially tarnishing that track record by introducing “this third-party organization that has had problems all over the world.”

More than a decade ago, Scott won voter approval for the combined racetrack-slots parlor in Bangor but then sold it to Penn National for $51 million. He has “flipped” other gambling licenses in other states, fueling speculation that he could once again attempt to do the same with the York County casino.

“My family and I have been spending time and investing in Maine for nearly 20 years. We are here to stay,” Scott said. “We believe in the state and we think this is a fantastic project.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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