Vegas developer takes over Maine casino campaign

Posted Sept. 16, 2008, at 2:22 p.m.

Hoping to reinvigorate a stalled campaign, a Las Vegas developer announced Tuesday it will lead the referendum drive for a casino in Oxford County and spend $100 million to make it a reality if state voters give their approval in November.

The Olympia Group said it has purchased Evergreen Mountain Enterprises from Rumford lawyer Seth Carey, who abandoned the campaign following legal problems.

Also Tuesday, former gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche resurfaced as casino campaign spokeswoman with an impassioned plea for economic development in Oxford County and a fiery attack on casino critics she accused of using scare tactics and spreading “lies.”

Dean Harrold, vice chairman of Olympia Gaming, urged people to get beyond outdated stereotypes about casino gambling and instead focus on the economic benefit. The casino project would create 800 jobs with good wages and benefits in a part of the state that needs it, he said.

“It’s not about gaming. It’s not about resorts. That’s not what this is about. This is about jobs, this is about Maine and that’s the reason we’re here,” Harrold said.

Olympia’s 11th-hour arrival gave new life to a moribund referendum campaign that collapsed with the departure of Carey, who’s accused of misconduct in his legal practice, and LaMarche, who cited “legal and professional issues” surrounding Carey.

LaMarche, who has run for Maine governor and U.S. vice president as a member of the Green party, said she agreed to return to the campaign once Olympia entered the picture.

Olympia already operates a casino in Carson City, Nev., and is involved in three other casino projects. The company also holds permits to develop another five casinos in Nevada.

“We’re known for getting it right and doing it right, and I assure you this, that when we come to Maine, we’ll do it right here,” said Harrold, whose previous positions before joining Olympia included a stint as president and chief operating officer at Caesar’s Palace.

As for Carey, he will have no role in Olympia’s decision making, but he’ll remain as a minority investor in the casino project, Harrold said.

So far, Olympia has not settled on a location for the proposed casino, but says it would include table games as well as slot machines. The goal is to announce a preferred site before the Nov. 4 election, Harrold said.

Dennis Bailey from Casinos NO! said he thinks Mainers are no more interested in allowing a large casino now than they were in 2003 when they rejected a tribal-based casino in Sanford. He predicted that the biggest economic beneficiary of the casino will be its out-of-state owners.

“The Oxford County casino proposal was sold to Maine voters and the petition signers as a Maine-owned and operated casino,” he said. “Now, less than two months before the election we are told that the real owners are a Las Vegas outfit who’s only interest is taking money from Maine people to fill their vault in Nevada.”

Bailey also noted that the referendum, as it’s currently worded, would lower the legal age for gambling from 21 to 18 in Maine. It’s too late to change the wording of the referendum question, even though Harrold said he opposes lowering the age limit for gambling.

LaMarche brushed off the criticism.

“You will hear the doom and gloom and that the world’s coming to an end if Question 2 passes. And just like every other time they’ve told you this, it will be a lie,” she said.

LaMarche and Harrold pointed out that Mainers are already voting with their wallets.

They said Mainers made 271,000 visits to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut last year and that over the past three years, Mainers have spent $100 million in those casinos. Connecticut reaped $13.4 million in taxes from Mainers, they said.

LaMarche said gambling is already plentiful in Maine, including in Bangor, where slot machines are available at Hollywood Slots. So the state may as well reap the benefits of a casino instead of watching those dollars leave the state, she said.

“Everything other type of gaming is already here. And you know what? Maine is still a really wonderful place to live,” LaMarche said.

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