AUGUSTA – Volunteers began recounting votes Thursday from the referendum in which Maine voters narrowly approved a casino in Oxford County.

Opponents of the casino, who requested the recount of last month’s vote, must make up a lot of ground — 4,601 votes out of 564,000 cast.

Still, the margin, at less than 1 percent, is close enough to justify a recount, said Dennis Bailey of CasinosNO!

“The odds of reversing this are better than the odds you’ll get in the casino,” he said.

It could take three to four weeks to count every ballot — a process to be completed by volunteers from both campaigns and supervised by state election workers.

The recount is the first for a statewide vote since 1995, when the United Bikers of Maine requested a recount in a referendum that created a mandatory seat belt law for vehicles. The group conceded after a few days of counting.

The volunteers plan to first count ballots from Maine’s five largest communities. The casino’s opponents say they will decide after that whether they want to continue.

In the meantime, Black Bear Entertainment, which plans a $165 million resort casino with slot machines and table games in the town of Oxford, will continue working on development plans with town officials and meeting with potential casino operators, said Peter Martin, a lobbyist for the company.

He said Black Bear Entertainment is paying for a lawyer to observe the recount, and paying the expenses of 10 volunteers. He said he hopes the recount will be resolved as quickly as possible.

On Thursday, 19 volunteers counted ballots in a conference room at the Maine Department of Public Safety. They began in the morning with ballots from the first ward of South Portland. In the afternoon, they counted ballots from Scarborough.

Today, volunteers are scheduled to count ballots from Portland. They will then count ballots from Lewiston and Bangor.

In the recount process, each side counts a batch of ballots, then the same batch is counted by the other side. Once both sides agree on the totals, they move on to the next batch.

Daniel Walker, attorney for the pro-casino side, said, “We think after the first five towns are done, which will be the first five days, that we’ll have a very good indication of where this is going. And we hope that if nothing is changed, that the ‘no’ side will understand the trend here.

“If they decide to go another five days with the next five towns, it will bring us up to one-fifth of the state within 10 days. At that point, if there hasn’t been any significant shifts, we’d expect that that would be sufficient for this process,” Walker said.

Bailey acknowledged the difficulty of getting volunteers for casino opponents to recount ballots, given the unpredictable length of the process.

“It’s real tough to get people to commit to something we don’t know how long will last,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6261 or at:

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