AUGUSTA — A controversial York County casino proposal appears headed for this November’s ballot.

On Thursday, the referendum cleared what is likely the last hurdle on the path to the ballot box. Maine law gives the Legislature two options when citizen initiative campaigns have collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot: either approve the legislation, or send it to a statewide vote. Both the House and Senate quietly opted for the latter without discussion, thereby allowing voters to decide on whether to authorize a third casino in Maine, this one in York County.

However, the referendum proposal is not entirely in the clear.

The Maine Ethics Commission is investigating the ballot initiative’s compliance with Maine’s campaign finance laws after organizations behind the referendum apparently filed late, inaccurate or nonconforming records. To date, organizations tied to international casino entrepreneur Shawn Scott and his sister, Lisa Scott, have funneled more than $4.3 million into a campaign that would give Shawn Scott the exclusive right to build a casino in southern Maine. Shawn Scott paid for the 2003 slot machine referendum campaign in Maine and then reportedly cashed in – to the tune of $30 million – by subsequently selling the rights to build what is now Hollywood Casino in Bangor.

And the signature-gathering campaign for this latest casino proposal was marred by complaints of aggressive or deceptive signature gatherers, questionable record-keeping and unpaid bills. Lawmakers also have questioned who is actually behind the more than $4 million contributed to the campaign so far. And three of the four political committees involved in funding the campaign missed a campaign filing deadline this week.

The co-chairmen of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, Republican Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and Democratic Rep. Louis Luchini of Ellsworth, had considered a parliamentary maneuver to kill the casino before it got to voters. That plan called for approving the ballot initiative bill but then immediately passing another measure to repeal the casino bill. But the pair dropped the plan because it likely would have sparked a court challenge.

The Legislature’s work is not done for the year, however. Lawmakers are expected to return for a brief session Aug. 2 and then again this fall – before the November election – for a special session devoted largely to issues surrounding marijuana legalization,

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH