AUGUSTA, Maine — A question asking Maine voters to approve a new casino in York County won’t be on the 2016 ballot after proponents withdrew an appeal to the state’s high court earlier this week.
It’s the end — for now — of the $2.9 million campaign from Horseracing Jobs Fairness, a committee linked to Las Vegas developer Shawn Scott. His sister was the effort’s sole funder, and he would be the only person who could get the casino license under the proposal.
That campaign ramped up frantically in December 2015, leaving just more than a month to collect the more than 61,000 valid signatures to place the question on this year’s general election ballot. It led to a harried campaign criticized for misleading tactics and allegations of nonpayment.
By February, proponents submitted 91,000 signatures to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office. But his office validated less 36,000 — or less than two-fifths of all signatures — citing myriad problems, including notary and circulator signatures that didn’t match those on file with the state.
Casino proponents sued immediately, asking Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy to overturn Dunlap’s decision. But she ruled in favor of Dunlap, saying even if more than 18,000 disputed signatures were validated, the group still wouldn’t have enough signatures to qualify.
The group’s attorney, Bruce Merrill, appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court days later, saying Murphy’s appeal didn’t square with her ruling in favor of proponents of marijuana legalization in a separate case against Dunlap.
The cases were similar and centered on petitions notarized by Stavros Mendros, president of Olympic Consulting in Lewiston, which worked for both campaigns. In the marijuana case, Murphy said that Dunlap’s invalidation of signatures notarized by Mendros was an overbroad “error of law.”
But Merrill withdrew the casino backers’ appeal on Tuesday, a week before it was set for an oral argument in Augusta. His filing didn’t give details on why proponents withdrew the appeal, and he didn’t return a request for comment.
Proponents could revive the campaign to get it on the 2017 ballot. But when asked about that, Cheryl Timberlake, a lobbyist who is the treasurer for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, declined to comment.