Proposed bill would put casino revenue toward rail service

Posted April 22, 2011, at 10:02 a.m.

OXFORD, Maine — A bill in the Legislature would allocate revenue from slot machines from the yet-to-be-built casino to fund commuter and passenger rail in Maine.

The sponsor said the proposal could help the casino’s business, as well as alleviate increased traffic on Route 26.

LD 1344 would amend the casino bill to allocate money currently earmarked for harness racing purses and the Sire Stakes Fund, 2 percent of slot machine revenue, to the State Transit, Aviation and Rail Transportation Fund.

The estimated funding would total about $2 million a year.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Chipman, U-Portland, and co-sponsored by Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, and Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel.

A provision of the current Oxford casino bill would eliminate revenue distribution for harness racing and to the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe if they received money from a casino or racino aside from the Oxford casino and Hollywood Slots. Chipman’s bill would target the racing money, not the 4 percent currently earmarked for tribes.

Scarborough Downs is currently pushing to establish a racino in Biddeford, in a move that would also establish a tribal casino in Washington County.

Chipman said the Biddeford casino is likely to pass, and the harness racing funds will probably lose that funding anyway.

He said rail service would be a win-win. On one hand, “it would relieve some of the traffic congestion that people in that area are worried about.” At the same time, passenger rail would make the casino “more feasible” by adding another way for potential casino patrons to get to Oxford.

The Maine Department of Transportation has studied the feasibility of extending passenger rail service from Portland to Auburn, up to Oxford County and possibly to Montreal. The estimated cost of extending service as far as Bethel ranges from $139 to $361 million.

Chipman acknowledged the casino funding wouldn’t come close to funding the train project, but it would help.

Peter Martin, spokesman and government relations adviser for Black Bear Entertainment, which is developing the casino, said the group supports passenger rail to Oxford County but opposes any amendments to the casino bill before the Biddeford and Washington County casinos pass or fail.

He said Black Bear is asking the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee “to refrain from passing any gaming legislation this session and wait for the outcome of referendum votes this November.”

Martin said Black Bear has long been supportive of a rail line through Oxford County. “How it gets funded, of course, we would have to take a look at.”

For more from the Sun Journal, visit www.sunjournal.com.

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