As the campaigns gear up for and against a November referendum to approve a casino for an undecided location in York County, communities throughout southernmost Maine are taking stock, weighing their options and, in some cases, staking out positions on the pending measure.

In the town of York, the Board of Selectmen appears poised to voice opposition to the casino question.

In the city of Biddeford, where residents have in the past supported the idea of hosting a casino, officials are taking a wait-and-see approach for now, but are prepared to jump into the conversation if the referendum is passed.

If approved by voters statewide in November, the initiative would allow one specific person the right to hold the casino license, which state officials estimate would be worth as much as $200 million. The license would grant Shawn Scott or his company the right to build the casino in any York County community that agrees to host it. That local approval could come in the form of a Town Council vote or, in smaller communities, in a town meeting vote or municipal referendum.

Last week, the pro-casino campaign issued an economic impact analysis it had commissioned showing that the construction of a $175 million casino, resort and hotel would create more than 2,100 permanent jobs and as many as 2,700 seasonal construction jobs while increasing tax revenues to the state by $248 million over its first five years in operation.


York Town Manager Stephen Burns said it’s a “pretty safe bet” that his small coastal town won’t agree to host a casino if the November referendum passes. York’s Board of Selectmen has already started the conversation about the upsides and downsides of another casino for Maine and is likely to reaffirm the town’s previous position in opposition to casinos.

In 2003, York selectmen even recommended a $10,000 appropriation from town coffers for the then-anti-casino campaign Casinos No!, a move approved by town voters. Later, to ensure the town could never host a casino, voters approved an ordinance change that expressly prohibited casinos from any zone in the town’s planning code, Burns said.

“I don’t think there’s any controversy here around this,” said Burns, who wrote the casino prohibition ordinance as the town’s planning officer in 2003. He said selectmen discussed the issue briefly last week, but didn’t take any action because one member of the board was absent. Burns said he expected a unanimous vote in opposition to the ballot measure at the board’s next meeting.

Burns said that, in his own view and not as town manager, the special circumstances attached to this casino proposal make it even harder to support. “Setting this up for only one entity is pretty ludicrous, and I think it’s a pretty safe bet we are going to be opposed to this again, but we are going to have to wait and see,” he said.


In other York County cities and towns, officials are either not taking a firm stand for or against a casino or are positioning themselves to host the new business should the measure pass.

Biddeford City Manager Jim Bennett said he believed his city’s council wouldn’t pick a side, but noted that Biddeford voters in 2010 supported hosting a casino and horse racing track. Bennett said he suspected that town officials would back that position were the measure to pass at the polls.

“I think the assumption is that if something happened positively with this, then we would end up having earnest discussions about Biddeford trying to play host,” Bennett said. But because the measure hadn’t been voted on yet, the Biddeford City Council is focused on other issues important to the city.

“We have so many things that are going that are so positive for the city, so using our time to talk about something that may or may not happen – it’s just not high enough on the priority list right now,” Bennett said. “Especially given the community has already spoken in some fashion on this issue.”

Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said that, like York, his city would have to change its zoning ordinances to allow a casino to be built there. Sutherland said the City Council has not taken up the ballot question measure as official council business, and he wasn’t aware of any ongoing discussions with supporters or opponents of the measure.

In Old Orchard Beach, which was identified by Progress for Maine, a political action committee, as a possible host town, Assistant Town Manager V. Louise Reid said she believes there has been some private conversations between city officials, elected leaders and casino supporters, but no formal action has been taken. Old Orchard Beach, like Biddeford, has previously voted in favor of hosting a casino, and the beachside resort town popular with summer visitors and especially Canadian tourists is a likely location for such a venue. Town Manager Larry Mead and Town Council Chairman Joseph Thornton did not respond to messages.


Sanford City Clerk Sue Cote said there’s been no official discussion about the pending casino ballot question there. During a municipal election in 2002, Sanford, a service center city for western York County, voted in favor of a nonbinding city-only ballot question that could have opened the door to a casino in the city. But in 2003 the voters in the city rejected a statewide ballot question that would have approved a casino for two of Maine’s American Indian tribes, the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe. Sanford voters also narrowly approved the vote in 2003 that approved slot machines for Bangor.

As the ballot question is written, only Shawn Scott, or a company controlled by him, could be awarded the license for a casino in York County. Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slots to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. Scott then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

Scott, some of his business partners and companies, along with his sister Lisa Scott, a Miami-based real estate developer, are also the subject of multiple and ongoing investigations by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee and the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.

Most believe Shawn Scott would again likely sell off his rights for a profit in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So far, the ballot question committee Horseracing Jobs Fairness, which was formed to gather voter signatures for the ballot measure, has spent more than $4.3 million, while another recently formed PAC, Progress for Maine, has incurred nearly $400,000 in debts supporting the measure.


Progress for Maine also announced last week that it was beginning to campaign in earnest. Residents in Lewiston and Auburn, as well as Scarborough, have reported campaign workers going door to door trying to drum up voter support for the ballot question, which supporters say will bring jobs and money to southern Maine while raising revenues for a host of beneficiaries, from public schools to veterans groups to the harness racing industry. Opponents argue that casino gambling is not real economic development and that Maine just isn’t big enough for three casinos – that a third one in York County would only hurt business at Maine’s existing casinos in Oxford and Bangor, costing those communities jobs and revenue.

Maine voters have been asked seven times to approve casinos in statewide ballot questions over the past two decades, but have done so only twice – in 2003 for Bangor, and in 2010 for Oxford. In 2010, voters narrowly approved the casino, with the “yes” side earning just 4,723 more votes than the “no” side.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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