Poll shows support for Lewiston casino

Posted July 20, 2011, at 5:08 a.m.
Last modified July 20, 2011, at 2:56 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — A downtown Lewiston casino has broad support, according to a June poll released by casino backers Tuesday.

The poll shows 55 percent of the 301 voters polled support the plan — 16 percent strongly — to put a casino in Bates Mill No. 5. The poll showed 33 percent against the casino, with 9 percent strongly against it.

It’s good news, said Stavros Mendros, manager of the Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC.

“One thing I really like is it shows the definite no’s down below 10 percent,” Mendros said. “It’s a great place for us to be, since we haven’t really started our campaign. We were not expecting to be up by 20 percent this early and everyone except for the solid no’s are up for grabs. We think as we make our case, we can turn a lot of those unsure voters into supporters.”

The group hopes to turn the massive, saw-tooth-roofed Bates Mill building along Main Street into a casino.

Voters in Lewiston approved an agreement a year ago, giving the casino group the option to buy the building.

So far, the group has made two $10,000 payments, in June 2010 and in February. A $30,000 payment is due July 31 and a final $100,000 payment would be due on Dec. 31, 2011 — two months after the matter goes before voters at a statewide referendum. The group collected almost 75,000 signatures from registered Maine voters to qualify for the November ballot.

The group has estimated it would return between $21 million and $30 million to state, regional and local governments each year. The money would go to a wide array of groups, including local towns and would-be competitors. As much as $4.5 million could go to local governments in Lewiston, Auburn, Androscoggin County and surrounding towns.

Mendros said the poll question was carefully worded to spell out the casino’s benefits.

It asked: “Would you support a casino and conference center to be located in the Lewiston-Auburn downtown area, given that the project has been approved by a two-to-one vote by the people of Lewiston, has been approved unanimously by the city council, and is a part of the city of Lewiston’s master plan to redevelop and revitalize the Lewiston riverfront, and where the proceeds would go to statewide economic development, including other downtowns across the state, for road repairs, railroads, the fishing industry and tourism, as well as to fund programs for seniors and veterans?”

“Critics may take potshots at the question, but this is the way we are framing it,” Mendros said. “This is how we are explaining it to potential developers and it’s our campaign strategy.”

The poll was performed by Brunswick-based Ames and Associates and has a 5.65 percent margin of error.

According to the poll, the Lewiston casino has the strongest support in Aroostook, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties. Each showed support greater than 60 percent.

The casino had overall support in all but Sagadahoc County, where more people were against it than for it.

But Mendros said none of that is significant.

“The sample per county is too small to really tell the story,” he said. “We’re concentrating more on the statewide numbers.”

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