April 1, 2010

House opens door to gambling expansion

A citizens initiative to allow a casino in Oxford County may be joined on the ballot by other wagering plans.


AUGUSTA — The House has cleared the way for more gambling proposals to appear on November's ballot, alongside the citizens initiative for a casino in Oxford County.

Lawmakers voted 81-69 Wednesday to reject a committee recommendation against passage of the Oxford casino bill, L.D. 1808, opening the door to amendments that could further change the shape of gambling in Maine.

One under consideration, for example, would ask voters to authorize the casino in Oxford, an expansion of Hollywood Slots in Bangor to include table games, and a full casino in Washington County to be run by the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

That question would appear on the ballot in addition to the citizens initiative for the Oxford casino. Several other competing measures will be heard when the House takes up the bill again today.

Tribal representatives were encouraged by the House's vote.

"We've been at this for 20 years, and they keep telling us, 'Wait a year, wait a year,'" Passamaquoddy Rep. Donald Soctomah said after the vote. "It seems that Washington County is being forgotten, the tribes are being forgotten. This gives us an opportunity."

Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, a member of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee that oversees gambling, has been active in brokering a compromise between Black Bear Entertainment, which is behind the Oxford proposal, the owners of Hollywood Slots and the Passamaquoddy Tribe.

Fitts spoke against the committee's report Wednesday during a spirited floor debate. "I don't want us to get into a division pitting one region of the state against another," he told fellow representatives.

Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said that voters she represents have consistently said they want a casino in Washington County.

"I'm going to ask that you vote against this (recommendation against L.D. 1808) and that we have a real competing measure," she said.

Rep. James Martin, D-Orono, urged his colleagues to reject the report, saying he wants to discuss other options. There are more options than simply one casino or three, he said.

Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, another member of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, said there have been seven casino proposals in Maine. He urged representatives to support the committee report so a broad study on the future of gambling might be undertaken.

Several other representatives said an amendment would change the citizens initiative.

"I don't believe that we should be putting forward a competing measure," said Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, a committee member. "Are we going to tell the people of Maine that we don't support the right that they have to petition their government?"

Unlike in other states, Maine's tribes must first receive support from voters to establish a casino. Those terms stem from the landmark land claims settlement act of 1980.



MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:



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