OXFORD — A group hoping to bring a casino to Western Maine said it is negotiating an option to buy the harness racing track at the Oxford County Fairgrounds.
The casino would own the track and lease it back to the fair, said Black Bear Entertainment spokesman Peter Martin.
Black Bear, the company created to run the casino, has no intention of building a casino on the fairgrounds, but owning a horse-racing track is one of the requirements in the proposed legislation that creates the casino, Martin said.
He said the site isn't large enough for the proposed casino project, which calls for an estimated 50 acres for development.
Martin said the investor group behind the casino hopes to locate the casino off Route 26 but south of the fairgrounds.
The group includes Oxford County Fair Board of Directors President Suzanne Grover and her husband, Rupert, also a director.
Suzanne Grover said neither she nor her husband was involved in the board's decision to negotiate an option for the track with Black Bear. She declined further comment, saying the fair's treasurer, Lance Bean, was the key negotiator for the board of directors and spokesman for the fair.
Bean said the Grovers did not attend any of the meetings at which the directors discussed entering into an arrangement with Black Bear and also recused themselves from any voting on the matter that occurred. Bean said further details of the deal remained confidential, as it was still being negotiated with Black Bear.
Once the negotiations are settled, Bean said details would be made public.
But Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for the group CasinosNO!, said the arrangement raises concern.
"It's odd that they say they are buying the property in order to comply with law," Bailey said.
"They wrote the law. It smells like an inside deal."
Martin said the negotiations were contingent upon the casino group winning voter support in November.
He said he expected Maine's secretary of state to make a decision on or before Thursday as to whether Black Bear had gathered enough signatures from registered Maine voters to put its casino referendum question on the ballot in November.