March 13, 2010

After defeat, Downs says it may move

EDWARD D

— By . MURPHY

Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Voters' defeat of a proposal to allow slot machines at the Scarborough Downs harness racing track could lead the track's owner to look for a new home for the facility, her lawyer said Wednesday.

Results released on Wednesday -- delayed because a faulty memory chip in a vote-reading machine forced an overnight recount -- showed that voters defeated the slots proposal 5,804 to 5,565 -- 51 percent to 49 percent. It was the second defeat for slot machines at the track in five years.

The track's owner, Sharon Terry, issued a statement through her lawyer, Ed MacColl, that she was disappointed for horse owners and for the town.

''She's shown a lot of resilience in trying to figure out a path to allow harness racing to compete with other forms of gaming out there,'' MacColl said. ''She will consider any and all alternatives that will save the industry.''

MacColl said he and Terry first want to make sure there are no questions about the vote total, given the confusion caused by the machine malfunction. Then they will consider alternatives, which could include moving the track to a town that's more receptive to slot machines.

Scarborough voters also elected a new town councilor, Karen D'Andrea, who was one of the strongest opponents of slots among the five candidates for three seats. Shawn A. Babine, another opponent, also was elected, along with Ronald D. Ahlquist, an incumbent who was neutral on slots.

Mark Maroon, a leading opponent of slot machines, said the win for his side might have been narrow, but it's substantial, given the way the proponents packaged the proposal.

He noted that Scarborough Downs had indicated it would use proceeds from the slot machines to develop land it owns into a village center that the town has long wanted.

It also proposed a new road from Payne Road to Route 1 and said it would guarantee that the town would receive at least $8 million a year from the slots and more property taxes -- money the town might need to finance an expensive replacement for an aging middle school.

''With all the money and promises, they still didn't get to 50 percent,'' Maroon said. ''With all they were throwing at us, to just win is a big deal and should scream that the racino is not wanted here.''

Kathryn Rolston, who ran the pro-slots campaign for Penn National, the company that operates Hollywood Slots in Bangor, said the defeat will make it harder to maintain the harness racing industry in Maine.

She said revenue from Hollywood Slots has boosted race purses in the state from about $1,200 to $2,800, but that's still less than half the national average and makes it hard for horse owners to make a living. The purse is the total handed out to horse owners in a race -- the winner generally gets half, the runner-up gets 25 percent and the rest is divided among the next three finishers.

In 2003, Maine voters approved allowing commercial harness tracks to add slot machines as long as local voters approved before the end of that year. Bangor voters approved slots at the harness track there, but Scarborough rejected them, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Even if the proposal on Scarborough's ballot this year had passed, the town would have had to persuade state lawmakers to reopen the slot machine option for Scarborough Downs. It also would have had to negotiate a formal deal with the track, and another referendum might have been needed.

Town officials said the problem with the voting machine could not have been foreseen. It forced them to recount all 6,526 absentee ballots -- more than half of the votes cast in Scarborough -- after the polls closed Tuesday night. The results were finally available at noon Wednesday.

Town Manager Tom Hall said officials had been running the absentee ballots through readers since Monday and felt they were in good shape as the polls' 8 p.m. closing time approached.

''We felt really good -- we were going to get home early'' because so many people had voted absentee and those ballots were nearly counted, he said. ''Then this happened.''

One of the machines, he said, suddenly indicated that no ballots had been counted. Workers called in a technician from the company that sold the optical readers, but she could not retrieve any of the information from the ballots.

To avoid confusion over which ballots had been read and which had not, the town decided to start over and run through all the absentee ballots, Hall said. There were no problems with any machines used by people who voted in person Tuesday.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com

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