March 12, 2010

Casino backer wants statewide vote

Peter Martin, of Black Bear Entertainment, hopes to avoid a likely veto by Gov. Baldacci.

Sun Journal

AUGUSTA — A spokesman for a group that wants state approval for a casino in Oxford County asked a legislative committee Thursday to reject the citizen initiative that would allow the resort to be built.

Black Bear Entertainment's spokesman, Peter Martin, made his request during a public hearing before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee.

If legislators reject it, the proposal will be put to a statewide vote as written.

If they approve the initiative, the governor can veto it, as Gov. John Baldacci has promised to do with any legislation that would expand gambling. It would take a two-thirds vote by lawmakers to override the veto, which the initiative would be unlikely to win.

If the committee changes the initiative, the original proposal and the Legislature's proposal would both appear on a statewide ballot, possibly in November.

Martin said legislators should let the people vote on the original proposal.

"We are prepared to take our message to the people," he said, adding that investors have spent about $750,000 and plan to spend another $1 million on the anticipated campaign.

As hinted earlier, representatives of the Passamaquoddy Tribe asked the panel Thursday to draft a competing measure to allow a casino in Washington County, run by the tribe, and allow table gaming at Bangor's Hollywood Slots -- in addition to the casino in Oxford County.

"It's time for Washington County and the tribes to be treated fairly in this issue of economic development," said Passamaquoddy tribal Rep. Donald Soctomah.

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, asked why the tribe had not conducted its own citizen initiative by collecting signatures, as Black Bear Entertainment did.

Soctomah said it would have "just been a competing measure, anyway."

Other lawmakers questioned why casinos should be allowed only in Oxford and Washington counties and at Hollywood Slots.

William Nichols, governor of the Passamaquoddy Tribe's Indian Township reservation, said that anyone who was standing before the committee and asking for permission could be included.

A representative from Scarborough Downs, who was testifying against the measure, said it would like to have rights to build a casino.

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said the Penobscot Nation has tried nearly every legislative session to get slot machines and supposed it should be included, too.

Penobscot tribal Rep. Wayne Mitchell was in and out of the committee room during the public hearing but did not testify.

Mainers rejected a proposal in 2008 to build a casino in Oxford County. They also rejected proposals in 2003 and 2007 that would have authorized tribal casinos.


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