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House approves bill clarifying 100-mile casino radius

Posted April 07, 2011, at 11:53 a.m.
Last modified April 07, 2011, at 1:19 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to clarify a law requiring a minimum 100-mile distance between state casinos won approval in the House on Thursday, removing a potential roadblock for the planned Oxford County casino.

The proposed Oxford site is 125 miles by road from Bangor’s Hollywood Slots, Maine’s only other casino, but only 94 miles by air.

After a short discussion, representatives approved the bill making clear that the distance be measured in road miles, not air miles. The bill had strong committee support and was given preliminary approval by the Senate earlier this week. Further House and Senate votes are required.

Gov. Paul LePage supports the bill, saying it makes sense to base the distance on how people would drive to the casino rather than as the crow flies.

“Crows don’t gamble,” he said.

The bill seeks to remove ambiguity in the wording of a people’s initiative that paved the way for Black Bear Entertainment’s planned $165 million resort-casino in Oxford County. Voters last November approved the referendum proposal, but developers worried that uncertainty over the 100-mile requirement could threaten the project.

“The Legislature has a right to change the language in a citizens’ petition, since the language is written by nonlegislators and is not vetted in public hearings and work sessions where language could be changed before being sent to the voters,” Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, said before the vote. There was no debate.

A separate bill that has just been sent to committee would allow Hollywood Slots to ramp up its operation with table games.

The bill by Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor, doesn’t mention Hollywood Slots by name but says any facility that was operating slot machines as of Jan. 1, 2011, “may receive a license to operate a casino that includes table games.” Penn National Gaming Inc.’s Hollywood Slots is Maine’s only slots facility in operation as of that date.

Separate, initiated legislation under consideration would open the door to racinos — combination harness racing tracks and slot facilities — in Biddeford, in southern Maine, and eastern Maine’s Washington County.

If the Legislature doesn’t pass the bill, it will go to voters in a referendum next November.

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