November 4, 2010

Challenges to casino looking like safe bet

Black Bear Entertainment hopes to pick an Oxford site soon and start building next summer.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - By a narrow margin, Maine voters have approved the first casino in the state that would have table games in addition to slot machines.

click image to enlarge

Sam and Caity Barber check the results of the Oxford County casino vote Tuesday evening during a reception in Portland. They are the children of Steve Barber, president of Black Bear Entertainment, the casino developer.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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But opponents of the plan for Oxford County are considering a legal challenge and may demand a recount.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday's statewide election results, just over 50 percent of voters favored allowing a casino in the western Maine town of Oxford, with just under 50 percent opposed.

The tally for Question 1 stood at 279,181 "yes" to 272,095 "no" -- a difference of just 7,086 votes.

Dennis Bailey of Casinos No!, a political action committee that opposed the casino question, said he and other opponents are considering asking for a recount. He said they won't make a decision until all of the ballots are counted, a process that typically takes five days.

The group has until 5 p.m. Nov. 9 to request a recount.

Bailey said his group also is considering a legal challenge to the measure, which effectively allows just one company, Black Bear Entertainment, to build a casino in Oxford County. The measure also prevents another casino from being built within 100 miles.

"I don't think you can write a public law for private gain," Bailey said.

The Attorney General's Office said it won't examine legal issues regarding the measure unless the Legislature asks for an opinion.

Robert Lally Jr., co-owner of the Mount Abram ski resort and a partner in Black Bear Entertainment, said he is confident that the measure will pass legal muster.

He said his company will soon hire a team of engineering and planning consultants to help select the best site for the $165 million casino and resort.

He said his group is looking at five sites along Route 26 in Oxford. He said some of the most promising sites are outside the downtown. His group plans to choose a site this month so it can begin the permitting process immediately.

Lally said the group hopes to start construction next summer.

He said the 100,000-square-foot project would be phased in over five years, create more than 1,700 year-round jobs and generate at least $60 million 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. 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

 

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