Panel says slot revenue study leaves out key legislative issues

Posted Nov. 16, 2010, at 7:52 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the outgoing Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee say the report on slot machine revenues they unanimously endorsed Tuesday morning addresses only some of the issues that will face the new Legislature and is more a starting point for developing needed legislation.

“There are things that will need adjusting, that will need legislation,” said Rep. Stacy Fitts, R-Pittsfield, the GOP lead on the committee. “I think this will have to be among the first pieces of legislation the committee will have to address.”

He said the recommended legislation in the study deals with making sure the groups that benefit from slot machine revenues account for how they have spent the money. He said most of the committee members are concerned that the public has not been able to see how money was being spent.

The recommended legislation sets up reporting standards for all of the entities that receive part of the slot machine tax revenues.

Those include the three funds to support agricultural fairs and the harness racing industry, the drugs for the elderly program, scholarships at the University of Maine system and the Community College System and a fund to stabilize the off-track betting industry.

Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, the only GOP senator on the panel and the newly selected assistant Senate majority leader, also noted that there are two pending citizen-initiated petition drives dealing with casino-style gambling facilities.

If either is certified by the secretary of state as collecting enough signatures to force consideration by the Legislature, she said, lawmakers will be limited in what they can do to change laws that would be affected by the citizen-initiated legislation.

“We would have to get two-thirds vote in each chamber, and that is never easy,” Plowman said. “We have the gambling camp divided, and it will be hard to get them to compromise on anything.”

Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said the report seeks legislation that he believes is needed and should be adopted quickly to apply to the revenues from the Oxford casino proposal. But he also agreed that the new committee that will be named next month would face the need to deal with other issues raised if the Oxford proposal survives a recount.

“We definitely have to look at equity among all of the gambling operations in the state, both the racino operation in Bangor and the OTBs [off-track betting parlors] and all of the nonprofit gambling we have under way,” he said.

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