Thursday, April 17, 2014
From staff and news service reports
AUGUSTA - With a decisive Senate vote Monday, Maine lawmakers sent to voters a proposal to build a casino in western Maine.
After the final legislative action, Black Bear Entertainment LLC said it's confident that it can sell to voters its proposal for a four-season resort-casino in Oxford County. It would become the second slots facility in Maine, but unlike the other would also offer table games.
"We wouldn't be taking on this initiative if we didn't think we had at least a 50-50 chance" of winning in November, said Black Bear spokesman Peter Martin.
The Senate voted 26-8 Monday to go along with the House and kill the bill allowing a new casino. Because it was sent to the Legislature as a citizen initiative resulting from a successful petition drive, the votes against it send the proposal to referendum in the fall.
Martin said backers of Black Bear's plan were open to a competing proposal that would have also allowed a casino in Calais in eastern Maine and the addition of table games at the existing Hollywood Slots racetrack-casino in Bangor.
But that proposal was rejected in the House. If it had passed, voters would have had to choose between allowing the Oxford casino alone, or allowing Oxford plus the other two projects.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said the expanded measure would have been a way to bridge the gap between east and west in the state.
"It is a very different situation for people I represent in Washington County, and the Passamaquoddy Tribe, who have worked for two decades to bring opportunity to our part of the state," he said.
But Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, Senate chair of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, which oversees gambling, said it wouldn't be fair to expand gambling opportunities for those who didn't gather signatures to get a question on the ballot.
"We need to be very careful, if people petition for one casino we don't go out and do three," she said.
In 2008, Maine voters rejected a plan by the Passamaquoddy Tribe to build a casino in Calais, and last year they shot down a widely criticized proposal for a casino in Oxford County.
Critics pointed out that the previous bill would have allowed people younger than 21 to gamble and work in the casino; placed a 10-year moratorium on competing casinos; and put the casino president on a number of boards that benefit from casino revenues. Those provisions were removed from the new proposal.
Under the terms of the initiative going to voters, the state would receive 46 percent of the net income from slot machines and 16 percent of the net income from table games.
The bill breaks down where the state's share of the income would go.
Twenty-five percent of the slot machine revenue would go to K-12 education; 4 percent would go to the University of Maine System scholarship fund; 3 percent would go to Maine Community College System scholarships; and 4 percent would go to the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. That would provide $2 million per year for each of the tribes, based on anticipated revenues in the third year, according to Black Bear Entertainment.
The measure would distribute money to several other areas, including the municipality where the casino operates and to gambling-addiction counseling services. Black Bear also says the resort would create 1,000 jobs with benefits.
But an anti-casino group believes voters will do as they have in the past, even though more people are out of work.
"Was there ever a time when we didn't want jobs and revenue?" asked Dennis Bailey of Casinos NO!
Bailey also believes prospects for the Oxford casino are questionable in at least three parts of the state: Washington County, which voted against Oxford's previous proposal; Androscoggin County, where a separate casino plan is being discussed; and Penobscot County, home of Hollywood Slots.
MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover and The Associated Press contributed to this report.