BANGOR, Maine — Supporters of a proposal to build a casino in York County, who lost a bid earlier this year to get their citizen initiative before voters because of too many invalid signatures, have again submitted petitions to the secretary of state.
Proponents delivered approximately 65,600 signatures to Matthew Dunlap’s office on Thursday in an effort to get it on the ballot in 2017.
Dunlap said Friday that the signatures delivered Thursday were in addition to those submitted in the previous campaign, but are for the same citizen initiative, so some of the 35,500 valid signatures from the earlier push could be counted toward the 61,123 needed to get on the ballot next year.
Councilor Ben Sprague on Friday questioned the wording of “An Act to Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County,” that states the applicant must be “from an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County.” That only qualifies controversial Las Vegas businessman Shawn Scott, who was behind the creation of the “racino” in Bangor, the state’s first gambling facility.
“I have some serious questions about crafting a question in such a way to only allow one special interest to pursue the project,” Sprague said.
The councilor also thinks “it would be detrimental to the Maine brand to have casinos popping up all over the state. Maine has enough casinos already.”
Two casinos operate in the state — Penn National’s Hollywood Casino, Hotel and Raceway in Bangor and Churchill Downs’ Oxford Casino, which opened in 2012.
“Any new racinos or casinos in Maine are going to undermine the casino in Bangor,” City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said Friday, “as well as the one in Oxford.”
For that reason, Baldacci said, he and others on the City Council have spoken against the measure.
Gambling first came to Maine after representatives of Capital Seven LLC, a Nevada-based company owned by Scott, presented a proposal for a $30 million racino project for Bass Park in November 2002.
In June 2003, Bangor voters approved a local referendum to allow up to 1,000 slots at the harness racing track, the first of two steps needed to create the state’s first gambling facility. The second step happened on Nov. 4, 2003, when Maine voters approved slots for Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs. The Scarborough facility didn’t make it past the local ratification vote, however.
A month after the statewide referendum, however, a damning 2003 report from the Maine Harness Racing Commission accused Scott of having a web of companies demonstrating “sloppy, if not irresponsible financial management.” The report linked Scott to 37 lawsuits in four states between 1992 and 2000.
Nevertheless, the harness racing commission issued a license to Scott allowing him to open a racino in Bangor. The following month, on Jan. 8, 2004, Penn National bought out Capital Seven for $51 million and took over the racino project.
There has been little mention of Scott in recent years, until last year when it was learned that his sister was dumping millions into supporting the York County casino campaign.
Proponents needed 61,123 valid signatures to get on the November 2016 ballot and submitted about 91,000 signatures in February 2016. But the following month Secretary of State Dunlap announced that only 35,518, or less than half, of the signatures were valid. The campaign also was criticized for allegedly using misleading tactics in collecting signatures and was accused of failing to pay hired petition circulators.
If enough signatures are verified in the latest citizen initiative effort, the Legislature will then review the measure and likely send it out for statewide referendum in either June or November 2017.
Dunlap said Friday that his office will examine the newly submitted signatures as well as the signatures from the previous campaign to make sure there are no duplicates and that all are from registered voters. Also, no signature can be more than a year old when the initiative is approved, he said.
The operators of Hollywood Casino, Hotel and Raceway reacted to the second filing of the signatures by saying Scott and the petitioners have a lot of work to do.
The proponents “still need to have signatures validated and go through the referendum process. Not a done deal by any means,” said Dan Cashman, spokesman for Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Casino, in an email Friday.
Baldacci said he had no ill will against Scott for his role in bringing gambling to Maine.
“This is all about money,” Baldacci said. “He has no special ties to the city of Bangor or with anywhere else. He knows how to make money.”