POLL QUESTION

Groups spend nearly $4.5 million pushing positions on gambling in Maine

Tricia Coyle of Hermon gives 7-year-old Standardbred Casino King an affectionate tap as she leaves Fred Nichols Barn with Alley, a 2-year-old female Standardbred. They were headed outdoors to Hollywood Slots Raceway at Bass Park for an afternoon winter workout in January 2011.
Tricia Coyle of Hermon gives 7-year-old Standardbred Casino King an affectionate tap as she leaves Fred Nichols Barn with Alley, a 2-year-old female Standardbred. They were headed outdoors to Hollywood Slots Raceway at Bass Park for an afternoon winter workout in January 2011.
Posted Nov. 01, 2011, at 6:41 p.m.

Poll Question

BANGOR, Maine — With one week left before Maine voters decide the fate of three proposed gambling facilities, the battle over Questions 2 and 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot is becoming expensive.

Ten political action committees have pumped almost $4.5 million into the fray. More than $2 million of that has gone into mailers and television and radio advertisements on both sides. The rest of the money has gone to campaign workers, studies, food, office rentals and other expenses.

If Question 2 passes, it would allow slot machines at harness-racing tracks in Washington County and Biddeford, where Scarborough Downs would move to merge into the proposed Biddeford Downs.

Question 2 supporters have doled out more than $3 million, while opponents have spent less than one-third of that — about $903,000.

The loudest voice in the Question 2 debate, a PAC calling itself Putting Maine to Work, has spent more than $2.75 million in favor of the proposal. All but $2,000 of Putting Maine to Work’s funding comes from Ocean Properties, the New Hampshire-based company that wants to build the Biddeford racino and resort.

“This development company has about 100 properties around the country and they have the resources to build a first-class facility,” said Yes on 2 campaign spokeswoman Crystal Canney.

The Biddeford racino project would provide 800 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs in an economic climate where work is hard to come by for many, Canney said.

Ed MacColl, Scarborough Downs’ attorney and spokesman, said the Walsh family, which owns Ocean Properties, got its start in Maine and wants to continue to make investments and bring economic opportunity to the state.

Ocean Properties owns nine properties in Maine, including several Mount Desert Island hotels and the Samoset Resort in Rockport.

“If the question passes, the next investment will be $120 [million] or $125 million into building the [Biddeford] project,” MacColl said. Ocean Properties is willing to invest nearly $3 million in its effort to get Question 2 passed because the payoff will be an appealing Maine travel destination, he added. “They’re trying to build something grand out of something that’s, right now, nothing.”

MacColl said Biddeford Downs would make the region the capital of harness racing in New England.

Putting Maine to Work is focused solely on Question 2, Canney said, and does not take a stance on Question 3, which would bring a casino to Lewiston.

The Committee to Save Maine Harness Racing PAC has spent more than $400,000 during the campaign in support of Question 2, arguing that without the Biddeford project, the future of Scarborough Downs and Maine’s horse racing industry could be in jeopardy.

The committee says that Question 2 would secure harness racing jobs in the state, as well as jobs in agriculture and other industries that see a lot of business from horse breeders, owners and racers.

Question 3 opponents have spent more than $900,000, while backers of a Lewiston casino have spent around $353,000. However, four of the opposing PACs are using campaign funds to oppose Questions 2 and 3 in hopes of keeping more casinos out of Maine.

Penobscot County for Table Games and Jobs, the highest-spending Question 2 and 3 opposition PAC, has spent about $326,500 and has another $346,400 in contributions that it has yet to use.

Campaign spokesman Dan Cashman said the PAC has a “strategic plan” for the remaining funds and will spend them all in the next week.

The PAC has sent out mailers and created television and radio spots arguing that additional racinos and casinos would mean significant job and revenue losses in Penobscot County — especially if voters approve all three projects. The group also is promoting a “yes” vote on a Penobscot County ballot question that would allow table games such as poker, blackjack and roulette at Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

“Our whole mindset from the beginning has been to make sure people in Penobscot County understand the financial ramifications of more casinos,” Cashman said. “It will have a direct and significant impact locally.”

Cashman said that if Questions 2 and 3 pass and the state goes from having one casino to five, taxpayer revenue generated by Hollywood Slots could be cut by as much as 30 percent — putting the jobs of some of the casino’s 400 or so employees at risk.

Penobscot County for Table Games and Jobs largely is funded by contributions from Hollywood Slots and its parent company, Penn National Gaming.

The Friends of Oxford Casino PAC also opposes Questions 2 and 3. The Oxford casino was approved in last November’s vote and is under construction.

The PAC has given contributions to other anti-racino and anti-casino groups and sent out mailers claiming that the approval of Questions 2 and 3 would mean a loss of $25 million in annual state education funding.

A full list of campaign expenditures and PACs associated with Question 2 and Question 3 is available at http://www.mainecampaignfinance.com/public/home.asp.

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