OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — Controversial offshore developer Shawn Scott’s two-year battle to persuade Mainers to hand him rights to a York County casino failed Tuesday, as unofficial results showed voters overwhelmingly rejecting Question 1 on the state ballot.
Casino backers spent nearly $10 million on a bid that began in 2015 with a signature drive that failed to get it on the 2016 ballot. The campaign got the ballot question on the 2017 ballot, but it was hit with record ethics fines just four days before Election Day.
The Associated Press called the race in favor of the “no” side at about 9 p.m. Tuesday. At 10:20 p.m. Tuesday, unofficial returns showed 84 percent of voters rejecting Question 1 with 70 percent of locations reporting results.
[election_race race=”21301″ source=”ap” title=”Question 1″]
Roy Lenardson, the Republican strategist who ran the anti-casino campaign, credited casino opponent Gov. Paul LePage, the Legislature, media and ethics regulators for educating the voters about what he called Scott’s “shady deal.”
“Everybody did what they needed to do and that’s why democracy works and to me, that’s a vindication of our democratic process, it really is,” Lenardson said.
Scott, a developer who lives in the Northern Mariana Islands, ran a messy campaign, providing his opponents with the fodder to easily defeat Question 1. But his bid was a product of Maine’s lack of gaming policy. The easiest way to establish a new casino is through a referendum.
It was Scott who pioneered this lucrative approach. He bought the blighted Bangor Historic Track and bankrolled a 2003 referendum in which Maine voters allowed slots machines there. Without getting a license, he sold the rights for $51 million and it became Hollywood Casino.
In 2010, voters allowed a casino in Oxford that was sold to Kentucky-based Churchill Downs for $160 million in 2013. The same company used by Scott in Bangor would have received the sole rights to the new casino under Question 1, which were valued at $200 million by the state.
Scott’s campaign was eyeing a potential site in Old Orchard Beach that would have been the southernmost one in Maine. It could have diminished Oxford Casino’s customer base, which is why Churchill Downs funded an anti-Question 1 political committee to the tune of $735,000.
It decried “Shady Shawn,” noting a long list of controversies. A 2003 report from the Maine Harness Racing Commission hit him for “sloppy, if not irresponsible, financial management.” Laos seized a Scott-linked casino in 2015 over disputed corruption charges. A failed Massachusetts casino bid paid $125,000 in penalties after hiding Scott-linked contributions.
That was all before the Maine campaign heated up. Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott, pitched herself as the project’s developer starting in early 2016. From the beginning, the effort fronted by her was criticized for misleading tactics while gathering signatures to get on the ballot.
Lisa Scott’s effort hit an obstacle in April, when she disclosed that $4.3 million in campaign funds originally attributed to her actually came from one of her brother’s companies and a Japanese consulting firm. On Friday, the Maine Ethics Commission hit backers with a record $500,000 in fines for late reporting, which their lawyers have pledged to fight.
That controversy was on voters’ minds Tuesday at Old Orchard Beach High School, where Jim Bucar, 75, said the way that money was spent in the race turned him off.
“I thought it was sleazy,” Bucar said. “I much prefer people to be honest and straightforward.”
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.