Lawmakers ax gambling expansion

The Maine Senate takes up a debate at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Monday, April 5, 2010. Maine lawmakers decided to let voters decide whether to allow a casino in Oxford County. The Legislature's action sends the proposal to referendum in the fall. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Pat Wellenbach | AP
The Maine Senate takes up a debate at the State House in Augusta, Maine, on Monday, April 5, 2010. Maine lawmakers decided to let voters decide whether to allow a casino in Oxford County. The Legislature's action sends the proposal to referendum in the fall. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Posted April 05, 2010, at 12:34 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The late-session campaign by the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Hollywood Slots in Bangor to place an alternative gambling proposal on the November ballot officially came to an end on Monday.

Instead, the state Senate voted only to let voters decide this November whether to approve a four-season resort casino proposed for Oxford County.

The 26-8 vote in effect killed a late push in the Legislature to present voters with a broader, alternative measure seeking approval for two casinos — one each in Oxford and Washington counties — as well as table games at Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

The House had rejected the alternate or competing measure last week.

Today’s Poll

Will you support the Oxford County Casino if gambling isn’t also expanded
in Bangor and Washington County?

Yes

No

Late last year, the company Black Bear Entertainment LLC submitted more than 100,000 petition signatures to force a statewide vote on the Oxford casino. Company officials estimate the four-season resort, convention center, restaurant and casino will create nearly 1,000 well-paying jobs in the Oxford area — not including construction jobs — and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax payments to the state.

After originally resisting the idea, Black Bear officials began negotiating last month with representatives of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Hollywood Slots on a broader question.

The three sides reached an agreement that they believed would benefit all parties and stand a stronger chance at garnering voters’ support statewide.

“Gaming is not my first choice for economic development,” Sen. David Hastings, R-Fryeburg, said Monday during debate in the Senate chambers. “But ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, I stand before you and say that right now, it may be the only economic development for Oxford County and maybe for Washington County, too.”

But Sen. Nancy Sullivan, a Biddeford Democrat who co-chairs the Legal and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the committee did not have time to craft a stronger competing measure so late in the session.

Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said he believed the competing measure would help “put an end to the regionalism that has divided the state” over gambling issues.

The question now is whether Black Bear’s willingness to work — albeit unsuccessfully — with the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Hollywood Slots on a competing measure will lessen opposition in Washington and Penobscot counties to an Oxford-only ballot measure. Voters in those counties voted heavily against a 2008 Oxford casino proposal.

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