Battle brewing over disclosure of casino development group owners

Soil is moved at the location where a new casino is being built in Oxford in July 2011.
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Soil is moved at the location where a new casino is being built in Oxford in July 2011.
By Mal Leary, Capitol News Service
Posted Oct. 25, 2011, at 6:27 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Three members of the Gambling Control Board Tuesday rejected an attempt to keep secret the ownership of BB Development, applicants to operate a casino in Oxford County.

“We are not fighting the issue of releasing the names,” said Melissa O’Dea, the attorney for BB Development, “no matter how minute the interest. I don’t think the public needs to know the exact percentage that the person owns.”

The names of the owners of BB Development have not been made public and won’t be until the issue is resolved.

Gambling board Executive Director Patrick Fleming brought the issue to the board because of two requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act for copies of the application, which include the names of company owners as well as ownership percentages. He said the law governing the gambling board spells out the need for it to decide what information is “an unwarranted invasion of privacy,“ which was one of O’Dea’s claims for limiting the disclosure of how much of BB Development each person or entity owns.

She also argued that release of the information would violate two other areas of protected information under state law: trademarks and what amounts to proprietary information of about the company.

“That ownership percentage is the means by which they benefit economically,” she said. “So it is data that shows how they are going to benefit from their investment. That can be used by other individuals to disadvantage them in negotiations or other competing enterprises. “

But Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, the lawyer for the gambling board, rejected those arguments and said the public should not only know who owns BB Development but also how much of the company they own.

“We don’t see how this percentage breakdown of ownership constitutes a trade secret,“ he said. “We are not convinced this is proprietary information. Basically this is identifying percentage of ownership of an applicant for a gambling license.”

Stokes said there has to be some evidence the release of the information would be competitively harmful to the applicants. He acknowledged the ownership structure of BB Development is complex, made up of individuals as well as other business entities that in turn have several owners.

“But we think the public has a right to know not only who the owners are but what control they may have in the company,” he said.

Gambling board members asked questions based on a hypothetical applicant that had a similar complex structure as BB Development. Gambling board Chairman Timothy Doyle said it seemed clear to him that it is important for the public to know how much someone or another company or companies may own of a gambling applicant.

“If I formed a number of LLCs (limited liability companies) that I own, with one owning 8 percent and another one with 4 percent and another own owning 3 percent, isn’t there a possibility of basically creating a shell so that the public would not really know what I owned?” Doyle said.

The other two gambling board members agreed and voted to adopt a finding that public release of ownership percentages would not be a violation of trade secrets law or be a violation of proprietary information statues.

The motion also found it would not be an unwarranted violation of owners’ privacy.

The gambling board did delay the effective date of their findings until Nov. 8, to allow BB Development to go to court to make their case to a judge to overturn the board’s decision.

Voters approved the casino last November by a margin of about 1 percent. A business entity called Black Bear Entertainment ran the campaign telling voters the plan was to build a $165 million facility with both slot machines and table games, such as blackjack, on a 100-acre site along Route 26 in Oxford.

A study commissioned by Black Bear Entertainment estimated that the resort casino will create more than 2,700 jobs at the facility and generate more than $80.7 million in wages and benefits. Construction of the facility is underway and is projected to create an additional 800 jobs.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/25/politics/battle-brewing-over-disclosure-of-casino-development-group-owners/ printed on December 25, 2014