Churchill Downs completes purchase of Oxford Casino

Sun Journal file photo

The Maine Gambling Control Board has approved the transfer of Oxford Casino's gambling license to Churchill Downs International.

OXFORD — Oxford Casino has a new owner.

Louisville, Ky.,-based Churchill Downs Inc. announced Wednesday it has completed its purchase of the Route 26 casino, worth about $160 million.

The announcement followed Tuesday's meeting of the five-member Maine Gambling Control Board, which voted unanimously to approve the transfer of the license to the new owners.

“We are extremely pleased to complete this transaction earlier than anticipated and appreciate the timely action of the Maine Gambling Control Board, who made this possible,” Chairman and CEO Bob Evans said. “CDI welcomes the employees at Oxford to the CDI family.”

The casino, Maine's second, has made a lot of money since it opened 13 months ago.

In its first six months of this year, it saw more than $28 million in net revenue, according to state records. In June alone, it made $5 million.

The sale was first announced in March.

It is expected to be a windfall for investors, including developer Bob Bahre and his son, Gary, of Alton, N.H., who had a 30 percent share of the casino.

Other owners included Rob Lally, a real estate investor and Mt. Abram Ski area co-owner; Steve Barber, former president and CEO of Barber Foods in Portland, and his wife; James Boldebook, who owns an advertising agency in Biddeford; and Suzanne and Rupert Grover, who own a company in Norway, according to Black Bear's business application to the Maine Gambling Control Board. They owned 45 percent

The remaining 25 percent share was sold to New York investment house Och-Ziff Real Estate Advisors.

Churchill Downs Inc. reportedly paid cash for the casino.

The company owns Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, and operates racetracks and casino resorts in several other locations, including Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois.

Tuesday's decision by the Maine Gambling Control Board follows months of analysis by the state.

"We had to investigate the key Churchill people," said Janine Collins. "Our detectives went to Kentucky last month and interviewed the keys. That was the final step to make sure they met suitability."

"All of the keys had to have a personal and a financial suitability," she said. Executives had to show means to support the business and a track record of responsibility.

Currently, Oxford Casino has 790 slot machines, 22 table games and a 140-seat restaurant.

In June, Oxford developer Joe Casalinova announced plans to build a four-story hotel with between 80 and 120 rooms, meeting and conference space and a family-style restaurant directly across Route 26 from the casino.

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This is not the plan narrowly approved by the 2010 referendum

Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the text that appeared on the 2010 referendum ballot, according to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, which read as follows:

Do you want to allow a casino with table games and slot machines at a single site in Oxford County, subject to local approval, with part of the profits going to specific state, local and tribal programs?

Yet, according to the article, "In June, Oxford developer Joe Casalinova announced plans to build a four-story hotel with between 80 and 120 rooms, meeting and conference space and a family-style restaurant directly across Route 26 from the casino."

If the site is undefined, then this plan is o.k., I suppose.

If, however, the site is pre-defined to the existing property, then the site where the existing Casino was narrowly approved by Maine voters is the only site that be used by this or any future casino company operating in Oxford.

Here, the article admits that Joe Casalinova has plans to develop a property "directly across Route 26 from the casino".

Wouldn't that now, in any plain reading of the language contained in the referendum question, be a casino operation in two, separate locations in Oxford?

If these are not two separate locations, then the site must not have been specified at the time the referendum question was voted on. In fact, it must be taken, that neither were the specific state, local or tribal programs specified that would receive part of the profits.

My question is, when, if ever and under what authority, were the state, local and tribal programs who would receive part of the profits from the approved Oxford casino specified other than legislatively?

And, wouldn't the Legislature be bound by the result of the referendum to equitably distribute casino profits to all state programs, all local programs and all tribal programs?

That's the plain meaning to be given the language approved by Maine voters in the 2010 referendum, in my view.

We now know voters were scammed with promises the casino would never be sold. It would be locally owned and operated. That is what Mainers approved in 2010 and nothing else.

This so-called seems to be fraught with problems. The biggest one being the fact that the Maine Gambling Control Board may not, as a result of this referendum law , as plainly worded above, have the jurisdiction to approve anything in relation to an Oxford casino sale.

That decision is for the People of the State of Maine, who approved it in the first place, to make for themselves.

And, everyone knows it.

In my view, there ain't no deal. At least, not until Mainers, themselves, say so.

JUDY MEYER's picture

Casalinova project

The hotel project is not connected to the Oxford Casino. Mr. Casalinova is developing an independent hotel across the street from the casino, but there is no cross-over in ownership or investment.

Gerry Thompson's picture

A hotel

is not a casino.


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