PARIS — Investors in the proposed $184 million casino and resort have signed an option for land in Oxford, one of them said Thursday night.
“It's over 100 acres. It's a beautiful piece of land,” investor Bob Bahre told the Sun Journal after the public informational meeting on the proposed development.
Bahre, one of the investors with casino developer Black Bear Entertainment, said a deposit has been made on the property and will be forfeited after 30 days if the statewide vote on Nov. 2 to allow the casino fails.
“That's only right,” he said of the agreement. He declined to elaborate further about the deal or location of the land.
About 150 people — some for, some against the casino — attended the meeting sponsored by the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce and held at The Forum at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. Chamber directors previously voted to back the casino question on the ballot.
Dozens of proponents, wearing white "Yes on 1" T-shirts and carrying signs demonstrated peacefully outside the school, as did opponents wearing yellow neon T-shirts. Some passed out literature to those entering the building.
Both sides were told from the start that the session was informational only.
“This is a non-adversarial event. Everyone understand? Got it? This is a non-adversarial event,” warned chamber Executive Director John Williams. He introduced Rob Lally, co-owner of Mt. Abram ski resort in Greenwood and an investor in Black Bear Entertainment.
Also present were investors Steve Barber, former president and CEO of Barber Foods in Portland; Rupert and Suzanne Grover of Grover Gundrilling in Norway; Jim Boldebook, founder of Creative Broadcast Concepts, an auto ad firm in Biddeford; Bahre of Alton, N.H., former owner of Oxford Plains Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon; and his son and business partner, Gary Bahre, also of Alton, N.H.
“It's what makes us very unique this time around,” said Lally of the investors. Two years ago a similar plan by an outside group to operate a casino in Oxford Hills failed in a statewide referendum.
Lally said an operator is going to be hired who could come from outside of Maine but, he stressed, “We're going to stay in control.”
“The most exciting thing about this is the jobs,” he said. There will be 1,700 permanent, year-round new jobs with an annual payroll of more than $80 million, he asserted.
“These are all jobs we're committed to going to the people of Oxford, the people of Maine,” Lally said. “Whenever possible,” Maine companies will be hired for construction and other jobs, he added.
“We will create jobs now,” he said.
He said the casino will generate $60 million is tax revenue, of which $1 million will go directly to Oxford County, and a large percentage into the state's education funds.
Local business owners and others questioned Lally about the possibility of their good help being lured to casino jobs, the possible negative effects, such as drunken driving and embezzlement, from having a casino and how much of the money spent at the casino would come from outside of Maine.
While Lally said an estimated 30 percent of the casino visitors will be out-of-state tourists, casino opponent Scott Vlaun challenged that statement saying that leaves 70 percent of Mainers putting their own money into the operation. Vlaun then asked how much of the “Maine” money would stay with the operator/owner, which brought investor Jim Boldebook to his feet declaring, “People have a choice to spend their money.”
Lally assured the audience, which included area town officials, residents, small business owners and others, that tourists who come to the Oxford Hills casino will also spend money at other businesses in the area.
“The rising tide raises the ships,” he said in reference to one business helping others in the area.
Question 1 on the Nov. 2 ballot asks statewide voters if they want to allow a casino with table games and slot machines at a single site in Oxford County.