Casino proponents shelling out $1M for TV spots months before election

Posted Aug. 04, 2010, at 8:04 p.m.

With three months to go before the general election, supporters of an Oxford County casino already have committed to spend more than $1 million on television advertising in Maine.

Although representatives from Black Bear Entertainment and the Vote Yes on 1 campaign would not provide numbers, most individual TV affiliates in the Portland and Bangor markets confirmed aggressive ad buys this week.

In the Bangor area, WABI-TV5, the local CBS affiliate, stands to receive $240,000 throughout the campaign, according to figures provided to the Bangor Daily News and the Sun Journal in Lewiston.

Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for CasinosNo, provided the information to the newspapers, after receiving the figures from one of his own ad buyers.

Mike Young, WABI’s general manager, would not confirm the amount, saying the federal rules requiring the information to be made public apply only if the issue is of national interest. His station has deemed the statewide vote on the casino a local or statewide issue only.

WLBZ2, the NBC affiliate in Bangor, is contracted to receive $75,000 from the Yes on 1 campaign between now and November, according to information provided by the station.

WVII and WFVX, the ABC and Fox affiliates for Bangor, will receive a combined $83,000, said Mike Palmer, vice president and general manager for both stations.

Even in the state’s smallest television market, Yes on 1 has made substantial airtime buys.

Records at WAGM in Presque Isle show the campaign spending $115,315 over a 12-week period.

In the Portland market, which includes Lewiston and Auburn, two stations declined to release information on the ad buys, also citing federal reporting rules for statewide issue campaigns.

Both WGME, a CBS-affiliate and WCSH, an NBC-affiliate, refused to disclose how much was spent on airtime buys by either casino advocates or opponents. However, figures provided to the newspapers show Yes on 1 buying $277,500 in airtime from WCSH and $115,000 at WGME.

Bailey also provided numbers for the other stations, which were independently verified by the newspapers. The buy amounts provided by Bailey matched the records at the stations where records could be accessed.

Records at the Portland-based FOX affiliate WPFO show the campaign has purchased $54,175 in airtime for spots between Aug. 16 and Nov. 1. Records made available at WMTW, the Auburn-based ABC affiliate, show the campaign purchased $113,987 in airtime.

At the Bangor area stations, ads are set to air nearly every day beginning Monday, Aug. 16, and running through Tuesday, Nov. 2. In many instances, ads will become heavier as Election Day draws closer.

Bailey, who represents a political action committee that has opposed all casino and gambling initiatives in Maine, said the Yes on 1 ad buy is unusual at this stage.

“I’ve never seen a campaign buy so much time this far out. Usually you buy week to week because you don’t want to give the opposition knowledge,” Bailey said.

Palmer, representing WVII and WFVX in Bangor, characterized the Yes on 1 ad buy as moderate and didn’t think the schedule was that early.

“Honestly, I’m surprised it’s this light,” he said. “Someone backing this casino stands to make a lot of money.”

Randy Seaver, a spokesman for the Yes on 1 campaign, said he couldn’t talk about campaign strategy or how much they planned to spend on advertising.

“I think people can appreciate that we’re creating a budget that looks at past indicators and the current climate,” he said.

Question 1 on the statewide November ballot asks: “Do you want to allow a casino with table games and slot machines at a single site in Oxford County, subject to local approval, with part of the profits going to specific state, local and tribal programs?”

The casino is backed by Black Bear Entertainment, a group of Maine investors led by Steve Barber of Barber Foods in Portland, who envision an expansive resort that includes a casino, hotel, convention center and outdoor recreational opportunities.

As with every other gambling initiative in Maine throughout the years, each side has vocal and sometimes deep-pocketed supporters.

Dan Cashman, a spokesman for the recently formed political action committee Citizens Against the Oxford Casino, which is backed primarily by Hollywood Slots Hotel & Raceway in Bangor, said he couldn’t comment on advertising buys at this point.

“It’s still too early,” he said. “We have a strategy we’ll be implementing but we don’t plan to talk about it until it happens.”

The Citizens Against the Oxford Casino also represents the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs, the Maine Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association, the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, and the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Speaking about the Yes on 1 campaign spending to date, Cashman said: “What it tells us, I guess, is that we’re going to have to get out there and have our conversation with voters as well. We still think this is a bad deal for Maine.”

Bailey said CasinosNo has not developed a campaign or advertising strategy but said a lot would depend on what the Citizens Against the Oxford Casino group has planned.

“I think we’ll be doing some ads. We always do,” he said.

Seaver fully expects anti-casino advocates to spend a lot of money between now and November. Penn National, the parent company of Hollywood Slots, recently spent nearly $40 million on advertising to oppose a competing casino in Ohio, a much bigger TV market.

Scott Thistle and Chris Williams of the Sun Journal in Lewiston contributed to this report.

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