Scarborough Downs eyes southern Maine slots

Posted Jan. 22, 2009, at 3:09 p.m.

WATERBORO, Maine — Scarborough Downs, which lost a bid in the fall to have slot machines, is eyeing York County as a possible site for a future harness racing track with slots.

Scarborough Downs’ representatives met this week with the so-called 12-Town Group, an informal group of representatives from towns in inland York County, to gauge their interest in such a facility in York County. The Scarborough Downs raceway is in neighboring Cumberland County.

Don Marean of Hollis, a former state representative who owns a horse farm, organized the gathering at the Waterboro municipal building. The meeting was an exploratory first step by the race track, he said.

“I see a racino as a much better thing for us than these lottery tickets in all the corner stores,” said Marean. “I see it as being a good thing for economic development. At some point, I think we will have one of these in York County.”

Scarborough Downs is exploring options for a move following the defeat of a local referendum in November that would have allowed the track to add slot machines, said Edward MacColl, attorney for Scarborough Downs’ owner, Sharon Terry. The referendum was defeated by 225 votes.

“We were heartbroken in Scarborough,” said MacColl. “We’re trying to figure out plan B.”

At the meeting, town representatives asked questions and raised concerns. John Sylvester, a selectman from Alfred, said a racino would have a big impact — not just in the host community but in neighboring towns as well.

“I think you’ve got a hard sell,” he said.

Access could be an issue for western York County since customers would have to use secondary roads to get to a racino from the Maine Turnpike, said Sanford Selectman Maura Herlihy.

“Getting into this part of York County is harder,” she said.

Waterboro Selectman Jon Gale was the only town official at the meeting who openly expressed some interest in having a racino in York County.

As a student at the University of Kentucky, Gale said he saw the area around the school “fill up with a lot of money” when a racetrack opened. A York County racino, he said, could be “tied into other things that bring people to Maine,” such as outdoor activities and nightlife.

Scarborough Downs’ spokesman Bob Tardy, also a former state representative, said a racino could be expected to bring in 400 to 800 jobs and $5 million to $8 million in revenue for the town or towns that host it.

Penn National, which owns the Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor, would most likely be approached for startup capital, he said.

“It’s going to be a very successful project if we can find a home for it,” he said.

To build a new track with slot machines in York County, Scarborough Downs would need to seek a change in state law and get approval from local voters.

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