Casino backers speak to commissioners

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PARIS — A proposal to place gaming initiatives from three counties on one statewide ballot could benefit all of them, a spokesman for an effort to build a casino in Oxford County told county commissioners Tuesday.

Peter Martin made a presentation to commissioners on behalf of Black Bear Entertainment LLC, a group of Maine investors seeking to establish a casino on a 50-acre parcel in Oxford. He suggested that putting the question on the ballot along side a racino by Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes in Washington County and table games for Hollywood Slots in Bangor in Penobscot County could help all three gambling facility proposals.

Last week, Passamaquoddy leaders suggested to the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee that the Legislature could include a competing measure on a November ballot to see if voters will approve all three initiatives.

Martin said a three-part question would ask whether voters favor the Oxford County casino; the casino, racino, and table games; or neither of the two options. If none of the three options garnered 50 percent of the vote, the one receiving the most votes would be put back on the ballot in 2011.

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Martin said that although a three-part question could split the voters supporting the Oxford County casino, he believes it could be remedied by a campaign urging voters to support the expanded option. He says this option could also allow the questions to be settled without numerous referendum votes, and that it would result in more support for the Oxford County initiative in Washington and Penobscot counties.

“We think our bill alone makes sense. However, the three together has merit as well,” Martin said. “We are very supportive of Penn National (the company which owns Hollywood Slots) getting their table games and the Passamaquoddy getting their facility.”

An attempt by the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe to get approval for a Washington County racino failed in a ballot vote in 2007. The next year, a ballot question to create a resort casino in Oxford County was defeated.

Dennis Bailey, spokesman for the Casinos No! campaign, said that since casino questions have not succeeded at referendum vote, he did not think a question approving measures for three gambling facilities would prove popular.

“That might be pushing it a bit,” he said. “You’re really going to test voters there.”

Bailey also said the Oxford County proposal has been criticized in the eastern part of the state. A majority of the Bangor City Council voted informally to oppose the measure Monday.

Martin also told commissioners that an economic impact study determined that a $165 million resort in Oxford would create 823 full- and part-time jobs with a $26.6 million payroll. He said the jobs would have an average salary of $33,367, and most would include benefits.

In addition, Martin said the study projects that 535 jobs would be created through “ancillary” effects in the surrounding areas, and more than 867 jobs would be available during the construction phase.

The casino would be taxed 46 percent of its gross revenue, he said, and bring $52.4 million in annual revenue to the state, with about $25 million going toward kindergarten through 12th grade essential program services.

“We hope that this $25 million can help save teachers’ jobs,” Martin said.

Suzanne Grover of Norway, a partner in Black Bear Entertainment, and Town Manager Michael Chammings of Oxford were also present at Tuesday’s meeting. Chammings said the casino would help to improve employment in the area and school funding. Grover said the casino would be an initiative for businesses to move into the area.

“Oxford County needs help,” she said. “The whole state of Maine needs help.”

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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