Opponents of a Nov. 7 ballot question that will ask voters to approve a casino in York County have gone on the offensive, launching a blistering campaign website Wednesday that attacks “Shady Shawn,” a reference to Shawn Scott, the Las Vegas casino developer who would benefit from the project.
The website, wickedshady.com calls into question the ethics and backgrounds of Scott, other casino proponents and chief financial backers.
A political action committee that opposes the casino, A Bad Deal for Maine, funded the campaign website, which features links to dozens of news reports about the regulatory issues faced by Shawn Scott and his associated companies over the last two decades from Maine to Laos and beyond.
The site includes a litany of references to Scott, his sister Lisa Scott, and others who paid for a $4.3 million campaign to gather voter signatures and are also bankrolling the political action committee that supports the casino, Progress for Maine.
Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.
Scott has profited from “flipping” racetracks and gambling facilities across the country while being dogged by lawsuits and complaints about his business practices. And questions are now being raised about the campaign in Maine led by his sister.
Maine’s fall ballot question is written in such away that if it is approved by voters, only Shawn Scott or a company controlled by him would be granted the license for a casino in York County, at an as yet undisclosed location.
Those working on the opposition team include long-time conservative operative Roy Lenardson, a former staffer for the Maine Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over casino gambling. A Waldoboro native and graduate of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, Lenardson now runs a political consulting firm from his home in Florida. His out-of-state residence has been highlighted by the pro-casino campaign, which is being managed largely by out-of-state operatives.
Among other things, the casino opposition website calls into question Shawn Scott’s trustworthiness, saying “Shady Shawn is back, dealing his latest shady scheme and trying to pull a fast one on Maine voters.”
A Bad Deal for Maine, the PAC opposing the casino, filed a campaign finance report with the state Wednesday showing the campaign spent about $5,000 developing the website.
The report shows the campaign had received only one cash donation by Sept. 30, from Lenardson for $100, and nearly $27,000 in in-kind services for a poll earlier this year. The poll was paid for by Churchill Downs, which owns a casino in Oxford.
The report also shows the PAC has $14,323 in unpaid debts.
The pro-casino PAC, Progress for Maine, has yet to file its quarterly campaign finance report with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. The report is due by end of day Thursday.
Michael Sherry, a spokesman for Progress for Maine, said the campaign expected to file its report by the deadline.
In response to the new website by the opposition, Sherry took aim at Oxford Casino and Churchill Downs.
“This website is the latest effort by a Florida-based political operative to protect Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, Inc. from fair competition in the marketplace,” Sherry said in a written statement. “Churchill Downs’ Oxford Casino is hoping to preserve its monopoly by stifling choice for Mainers and blocking the millions of dollars in tax revenues that would come along with a York County casino – revenues which would be directed to schools, seniors, and veterans. Mainers should see right through it and understand this is just a business protecting its turf at the expense of our state.”
So far, Progress for Maine has reported more than $300,000 of unpaid debts and campaign financial obligations, based on its most current campaign finance reports. The campaign has also launched a barrage of television advertising recently, its own website and has touted an economic impact study it paid for that was conducted by the Florida-based Evans, Carroll & Associates. The PAC is also paying for a door-to-door campaign, direct mail to potential voters and appears to have two distinct social media campaigns operating on its behalf on both Facebook and Twitter.
One account appears to be set up to attack opponents, critics and journalists who have reported on Shawn Scott’s past controversies or the ongoing investigations by the Ethics Commission and the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which are attempting to clarify where the campaign’s cash is coming from and who is actually behind the controversial ballot question.
Some lawmakers are also calling for a review of the citizen initiative process, which they have argued is being misused by out-of-state special interests or those hoping to make millions of dollars off a ballot question, as Shawn Scott stands to do on Question 1.
Much of Progress for Maine’s debt is tied to work being conducted by out-of-state political consultants, including $95,000 for the Washington-D.C. based firm of Goddard Gunster, Inc. and another $62,000 for Rodriguez Strategies, a California-based political consulting firm. Sherry’s firm, the Boston-based public relations company, O’Neil and Associates, to date, has billed the campaign for just over $58,000, while the Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies is owed another $59,000 for its consulting services.
Goddard Gunster was widely credited with helping Brexit campaigners win their ballot measure in 2016 to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union.
The PAC lists more than $11,000 of in-kind contributions from American General Corporation, another California-based company. The PAC so far has reported only one cash donation of $200 from Michelle Wilson, who lists a California address and appears in the PAC report as the director of operations for American General.
American General has had previous dealings with other entities Shawn Scott is involved with, including his company Capital Seven, another one of the donors to the casino campaign.
American General’s founder, David Wilson, is also a partner with Shawn Scott in the company Atlantic & Pacific Realty Capital, who would be the developers of the proposed casino and “are the primary backers of the campaign,” according to Sherry.