Tuesday, March 11, 2014
A group of state lawmakers spoke out Thursday against a referendum that would allow a casino to be built in Oxford County, warning voters not to pass a measure that both proponents and opponents have called flawed.
The legislators were met at their Monument Square news conference in Portland by a group of about 20 supporters of the casino. Pat LaMarche, spokeswoman for the Vote Yes on 2 for Maine campaign, co-opted the conference at the end, asking the legislators questions and charging that they were standing in the way of job creation.
Las Vegas-based Olympia Gaming has proposed a casino with an attached hotel, spa, restaurants, conference space and other attractions in the town of Oxford. Built in phases, it could eventually have 1,500 slot machines, 20 gaming tables, a poker room and 300 hotel rooms. It's projected to employ 900 people.
Olympia took over the casino campaign this summer, and has said that certain parts of the legislation would have to be worked on by the Legislature, if the measure is passed by voters on Nov. 4. Some of the issues include provisions that would lower the gambling age from 21 to 19; put a 10-year moratorium on other casinos in the state, essentially giving Olympia a monopoly; and require that a representative from the casino be given a seat on the board of every state entity that receives revenue from the gambling operations.
Opponents of the proposal have also said the legislation is flawed, but have suggested that voters shouldn't pass it and trust the Legislature to fix it.
The Legislature has worked on legislation approved by voters, noted House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, pointing to the bill that legalized slot machines for a Bangor racetrack. But lawmakers got ''a lot of heat, criticism and push-back'' when they did so, Cummings said.
Cummings said he has problems with the moratorium and how that might affect the future of Maine Indian tribes, who have proposed gambling operations before.
He also questioned the piece of the legislation that would put casino representatives on the various boards.
''It's not good politics, it's not good policy,'' agreed State Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport.
State Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, said she has tried to introduce legislation amending some of the state's current gambling laws and has seen ''pressure from the gaming industry'' that has resulted in very little getting done. She said that led her to believe the Legislature would have difficulty changing the bill that would come from the referendum.
''I have been there, I have done that -- it is not easy,'' Valentino said.
Cummings said this referendum question is one of the most complex, most dense and most in need of fixes that he's seen. With so many pieces and parts, it would be hard for the Legislature to fully understand the will of the voters if it were to consider fixing it, Cummings said.
''It is not easy -- it is extremely difficult to change the will of the people,'' Cummings said.
Other lawmakers at the news conference included Sen. Karl Turner, R-Cumberland; Sen. Peter Bowman, D-Kittery; Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland; Rep. Herb Adams, D-Portland; and Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach.
At the end of the conference, LaMarche asked the legislators why there wasn't anyone from Maine's poorer counties at the news conference.
She also noted that Cummings, Turner and Adams had voted for LD 1820, the bill that legalized slots for Bangor.
Turner answered that the bill was needed to set up a regulatory framework for such gambling in Maine.
LaMarche said several lawmakers have come out in support of Question 2, including Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield; Sen. David Hastings III, R-Fryeburg; Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden; and Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford.
The Legislature is expected to take citizen-initiated referendums and make fixes to them so that they work under state law, LaMarche said.
''If these legislators don't think they can do their job when they get to the Legislature, they shouldn't be running,'' she said.
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: