Gambling board meets to discuss 100-mile casino construction limit

By Tony Reaves, Sun Journal
Posted Feb. 19, 2011, at 12:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — There’s still no clear answer on whether the 100-mile minimum distance between casinos and slot facilities in Maine could block Black Bear’s casino-operator license application.

The Maine Gambling Control Board met Friday to discuss whether they would interpret a 100-mile minimum distance for casino construction in road miles or as a straight line from Hollywood Slots, the Bangor slot machine facility.

Members of the board were mixed on the question and the session adjourned with no clear answer. The board did find consensus in the idea that if a straight-line measurement made an Oxford County project impossible under the citizen initiative, road miles would be the measurement used.

Board member Matthew Dyer said it seemed pointless to discuss the matter before Black Bear had even submitted an application for a casino.

The application fee for a casino-operator license is $225,000. Black Bear spokesman Peter Martin said that when fees and other expenses were counted in, applying would cost his company about $500,000.

After the meeting, Martin said he was confident the mileage issue wouldn’t cause board members to reject Black Bear’s application. “We just wanted some guidance on their sentiment” on the mileage issue, he said.

On Jan. 27, Scarborough Downs lawyer Ed MacColl sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General William Stokes laying out the argument that “miles” should mean straight-line miles, not road miles.

“It is clear to us that Black Bear has proposed a project and location that are inconsistent with the existing Oxford casino law,” MacColl wrote. He wrote that the obvious intent of the 2003 minimum-distance rule is a straight line, otherwise a casino on an island in the Penobscot River would be exempt.

Scarborough Downs is looking to move to Biddeford and has pushed for a citizen initiative allowing a second racino there. The initiative would also allow for a tribal racino in Washington County.

MacColl wrote that the 100-mile provision in the casino referendum could thwart the Biddeford Downs project. Biddeford is about a 50-mile drive from the Oxford casino site. MacColl said that this threatens the Maine harness racing industry, which he said is losing money to forms of gambling with less overhead than harness racing.

Black Bear Entertainment lawyer Daniel Walker has said that in the citizen-initiative wording, there is no location in Oxford that is both 100 miles or more in a straight line from Hollywood Slotsand that meets all of the referendum’s other requirements.

According to the referendum, the Oxford casino must be no more than 30 miles from a Level I or Level II trauma center, 15 miles from the main office of a county sheriff, 25 miles from the main office of a state police field troop, 30 miles from an interchange of the interstate highway system, 10 miles from a fire station, 10 miles from a facility at which harness racing was conducted in 2009 and a half-mile from a state highway.

The referendum made clear that these distances were to be measured in road distance along the most commonly used roadway, as determined by the Maine Department of Transportation. There was no clarification in the referendum concerning roads when describing the distance between casinos.

MacColl made the argument that the straight-line measurement would not create a situation where no location could satisfy the referendum.

MacColl wrote that locations in Oxford County qualify, and others could qualify if facilities and roads are relocated. He offered the corner of Bell Hill Road and Route 121 in Otisfield as a possible location. It meets all of the distance requirements and is 9.9 miles from the Oxford County Fairgrounds and its racetrack.

Walker countered that the 9.9 miles would require driving on back roads, not the MDOT’s most commonly used roads, which would stretch the drive to more than 11 miles.

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