March 13, 2010

Casino backers: Mainers have lost their chance

MATT WICKENHEISER

— By

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Gordon Chibroski. Tuesday, November 04, 2008. CasinosNo! Executive Director Dennis Bailey and his spouse Kristin check the talley on his computer laptop after a night of encouragement as their side of the issue was 52% to 48% and still too close to call. They were at Chicago Dog in Scarborough where most of the volunteers went home after voting machine glitches kept Scarborough from completing tallies for the Racino issue as well as the Oxford Casino issue.

Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

Proponents of a casino in Oxford County say Maine ''missed the boat'' by voting against Question 2, while opponents hope this will be the end of gambling proposals put to the state.

Voters turned down Question 2, which would have legalized a casino for Oxford County, 55 percent to 45 percent, with 87 percent of precincts reporting.

''I think there's going to be a point where somebody who's got a more friendly business climate is going to offer an opportunity to someone to open a resort like this,'' said Pat LaMarche, spokeswoman for Vote Yes on 2 For Maine campaign. ''They'll beat us to the punch.''

The contest appeared close heading into Tuesday's election. Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNo!, said his camp was nervous, but late-night returns put the ''no'' votes handily ahead.

''I'd like to believe this is the definitive vote on casinos,'' said Bailey.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, an outspoken critic of any gambling expansion in Maine, said in a statement, ''Hopefully, this latest vote will slow the onslaught of out-of-state interests that continue to push for expanded gambling in Maine.''

Bailey said he thought the gambling front would be quiet for at least a few years.

''I gotta believe they can't come back anytime soon,'' said Bailey. ''(But) the money is just so good for these guys. It's so enticing to try and try and try.''

The battle over Question 2 was acrimonious in the months leading up to the election, and continued after the vote.

''Quite frankly, if Dennis Bailey had to tell the truth, we wouldn't lose,'' charged LaMarche. ''He's a master fabricator. He makes people scared about stuff that isn't real.''

LaMarche said Bailey played fast and loose with the facts on crime and other issues. Bailey said LaMarche personally attacked him and ''out-and-out lied in their ads.''

Both sides agreed that the legislation that the referendum question would have enacted was flawed. Las Vegas-based Olympia Gaming, which took over the campaign this summer, pledged to have the Legislature fix various problems.

Bailey said it was the problematic legislation that really had an impact.

''Maine people do their homework. They're not going to listen to me, they're not going to listen to Las Vegas,'' said Bailey. ''They just weren't willing to gamble on putting a bad piece of legislation into law, even if it meant jobs and economic development.''

Only Androscoggin, Kennebec and Oxford counties voted in favor of the question, with Somerset on the fence. Maine's top-population counties of Cumberland, York and Penobscot voted against.

''We had heavier-than-expected losses in Penobscot County,'' said LaMarche.

Pollster Patrick Murphy, president of the Pan Atlantic SMS Group in Portland, said a June poll found that 51 percent favored the proposal, 36 percent opposed it and 13 percent were undecided. Another poll a few weeks ago was virtually the same.

''I would say the dynamics of this thing really haven't shifted that much,'' said Murphy.

The proponents' campaign shifted messages several times, said Murphy, including once in the week before the election, possibly indicating that they knew they were behind. And CasinosNo! ran a strong campaign on a limited budget, he noted.

According to the latest finance reports filed with the state, Olympia Gaming spent roughly $1.83 million on its campaign supporting Question 2, while CasinosNo! spent about $460,000.

Tuesday's vote was vastly closer than a 2003 casino question that voters shot down 67 percent to 33 percent, but it wasn't as close as a racino question put forward by the Passamaquoddy Tribe, which lost 52 percent to 48 percent last year.

The Penobscot Tribe has said it has a Taiwanese company modifying slot machines so they will work under state law as they believe it pertains to them. They want to install the slots at their Indian Island reservation to supplement revenue from their high-stakes bingo games, held eight weekends a year.

Wayne Mitchell, the tribe's representative to the Legislature, said the Penobscots don't see Tuesday's casino vote numbers as encouragement to work on a casino project elsewhere in the state.

''We've been down that path,'' said Mitchell. ''How many times are you going to get kicked in the butt before you realize that's beating a dead horse?''

Mitchell said he thought Tuesday's vote should have been carried out by residents of Oxford County, not by voters in the entire state.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

mwickenheiser@pressherald.com

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