Racino supporters say jobs on the line for proposed Calais, Biddeford facilities

Posted April 04, 2011, at 6:22 p.m.
Last modified April 04, 2011, at 9:06 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The supporters of a proposal to build racetrack-casinos in Biddeford and Calais urged lawmakers Monday to support a bill they said would open the door to hundreds of new full-time jobs.

The owners of the Scarborough Downs harness racing track are hoping to relocate to Biddeford and open a joint racetrack and slot machine operation. But first, the project must receive legislative or voter approval.

LD 1203 would allow racinos in both Biddeford and Calais. But the project’s proponents have also gathered enough petition signatures to trigger a statewide vote on the issue if LD 1203 does not become law.

On Monday, supporters from Biddeford, Washington County and the equestrian community said legislative approval of LD 1203 would speed up a $125 million project in Biddeford that they said would create 800 construction jobs and 500 full-time jobs once the racino is operational.

“It is time to say yes, we want economic development,” said Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey, a former lawmaker.

Both LD 1203 and the related citizens initiative also would authorize construction of a racino in Calais to be operated by the Passamaquoddy Tribe. That ballot initiative also would remove language currently in law that prohibits new gambling operations from opening within 100 miles of an existing gambling facility, a change supporters say is needed due to the proximity of both Hollywood Slots in Bangor and the resort casino planned for Oxford.

Ernest Neptune, director of economic development for the Passamaquoddys, said the tribe was excited to be partnering with the proponents of the Biddeford project. Voters have rejected several previous attempts by the Passamaquoddys to open a racino.

“We want to bring harness racing back to Washington County,” Neptune said. “Jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what it is all about.”

This isn’t the only major gambling issue on lawmakers’ plates this session.

Members of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee are also debating how to implement the voter-approved law that will allow developers to build a resort-casino in Oxford County. Several other gambling-related bills are also on the committee’s agenda.

The committee has not scheduled a hearing date for LD 1203.

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