November 3, 2010

Proposal for Oxford County casino splits Maine voters

Developers say the $165 million facility would create 1,700 jobs and generate $60 million in state revenue.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

NORWAY — The proposal for a casino in Oxford County clung to a narrow lead early this morning, but the vote remained too close to call.

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Steve Barber, president of Black Bear Entertainment, welcomes guests during the Yes on 1 Four Season Resort and Casino reception at DiMillos Floating Restaurant in Portland this evening.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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This is a conceptual rendering of the proposed casino to be built in Oxford, Maine, if approved by voters in the November election.


Additional Photos Below

With 407,820 votes cast on Question 1, “yes” was ahead by just 2,868 votes, according to a tally by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

“It’s close, and it’s going to get closer,” said Dennis Bailey of Casinos No!, the political action committee that fought the proposal. He said rural towns, which typically are late in reporting results, have opposed efforts to legalize gambling.

If Question 1 passes, voters will have approved the first casino in Maine allowing table games, such as blackjack and poker.

As of 1:30 a.m. today, voters were evenly split on Question 1, 50 percent to 50 percent, with 76 percent of precincts reporting.

Black Bear Entertainment, the company that was formed to promote and develop the casino, has yet to identify a location, but company officials say they are looking at five sites on Route 26 in Oxford.

One of the company’s partners is Robert Lally, co-owner of the Mount Abram ski resort. He said the company plans to build a $165 million, 100,000-square-foot casino and resort in phases over five years.

With voters’ approval, he said, the company plans to hire engineers and planners immediately to help it select a site and begin the permitting process. He said his company would announce the team today.

The company said the casino and resort would create more than 1,700 year-round jobs and generate at least $60 million in revenue that would be directed to specific state programs. More than half of the money would be used to fund education programs statewide, including money for K-12 education and scholarships to state universities and community colleges.

Construction itself would create 800 jobs, said John Napolitano, president of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents 13 trade unions.

“Private investment like this is good,” he said. “ There will be plenty of jobs.”

Napolitano was waiting for election results with Yes on 1 supporters at a party Tuesday night at DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant in Portland.

Also at DiMillo’s were Black Bear investors Lally and Stephen Barber, former president of Barber Foods in Portland. There were about 60 people at the party initially, but the crowd dwindled to about 25 as returns came in.

In Oxford, Maurice’s Restaurant on Route 26 was hopping by 8 p.m., filled with casino supporters.

Strobe lights darted off the front entrance, where supporters of Yes on 1 were greeted by Derek Lovely, an Oxford native who was named Cosmopolitan magazine’s most eligible bachelor in Maine last month.

Inside, several owners of Black Bear Entertainment mingled, including Suzanne and Rupert Grover.

“We’re excited, win or lose,” Suzanne Grover said. “We wanted to celebrate our community. It’s what it’s all about. We’ll be here until it’s over.”

The Grovers were joined by fellow investors Jim Boldebook of Alfred and Peter Martin of Waterville.

“We decided this was economic development for our area. We need to get people jobs,” Suzanne Grover said.

Waitresses in fishnet stockings passed appetizers, and supporters spun a roulette wheel.

“These initiatives are always close,” Martin said. “We think this is the year. We think this resort’s time has come.”

Another investor, Bob Bahre, former owner of the Oxford Plains Speedway, and his wife, Sandy Bahre, were expected later in the evening.

In the studio above Cafe Nomad in downtown Norway, Zizi and Scott Vlaun gathered with 50 supporters of Oxford Hills No on 1, a grass-roots campaign that came together late this summer.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Chase Martin, Republican candidate for House District 115 in Portland, left, visits with Mark Ferguson of Poland Springs, during the Yes on 1 Four Season Resort and Casino reception at DiMillos Floating Restaurant in Portland.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Rob Lally, middle, treasurer of Black Bear Entertainment, visits with Zac Creps of Oxford, left, and Mark Ferguson of Poland Springs, during the Yes on 1 Four Season Resort and Casino reception at DiMillos Floating Restaurant.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


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