AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that clarifies the 100-mile build radius for casinos to be defined in road miles, not air miles.
The bill is significant to the $165 million Oxford County casino. The developers of that project say ambiguity in the state’s gambling law could threaten the project and mire its development in legal challenges.
The law now states that a casino or slot machine license cannot be awarded if another gambling facility is located within 100 miles. However, how that distance is defined is not clear in the law.
Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, the assistant majority leader, said her bill is a common-sense approach to defining the build radius.
“The key question is not how far apart the facilities are as the crow flies but what their location is in relation to potential customers,” Plowman said during last month’s public hearing. She added that customers visiting the casinos would travel on roads, “not in straight lines.”
Black Bear Entertainment, the developer of the Oxford casino, agrees.
During a public hearing last month, Black Bear representatives said defining the radius in air miles, or a straight line, potentially could doom the company’s request for a gambling license or subject it to legal action by anti-casino groups or competing casino developers.
In air miles, the proposed casino is within a 100-mile radius of the Hollywood Slots gaming facility in Bangor. The project is 125 miles from Bangor by road.
Plowman’s bill is backed by Gov. Paul LePage, who has said, “Crows don’t gamble.”
Plowman said the bill would allow Black Bear to continue its licensing and development process without the threat of litigation by a competing project.
Black Bear has said the bill would not affect the Biddeford or Lewiston gaming proposals because proponents of those projects have stricken the 100-mile provision from their respective referendums.
The Maine Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state’s gambling law, also has backed the proposal.
Black Bear Entertainment lawyer Daniel Walker has said interpreting the radius in air miles would prevent the casino from being built in Oxford County “or in the state of Maine.”
The bill’s passage in the Senate means it will move to the House for a vote as early as Wednesday.
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