OXFORD — At 1:45 a.m. Wednesday morning, the casino referendum was too close to call.
Approval of Question 1 took an early lead as results trickled in. With 81 percent of precincts reporting, yes voters held a 1,400-vote lead.
In Oxford County, local voters came out in support of the referendum. According to unofficial results, Norway voters were in favor 1,500 to 888.
“I'm voting yes on 1 because I think it will be great for the economy," Norway resident Michelle Wood, 27, said outside the voting station Tuesday.
Paris voted for the referendum by a tally of 1,436 to 839, according to unofficial results.
Polls of likely voters over the past month have shown the casino leading with as many as 13 points. Casino supporters were cautiously optimistic going into Election Day.
Pro-casino group Maine Taxpayers Taking Charge represented Black Bear Entertainment, the group of Maine investors who would fund the casino if approved.
Rob Lally, a Black Bear Entertainment investor and a real estate developer, said the pro-casino group was optimistic at their campaign headquarters in Paris. “We're watching the returns come in and we're confident we'll come out on top," he said. "Hopefully, tomorrow we win and we can start putting people to work.”
“If we don't win, it'll be the status quo," he said. "No new jobs; no new tax revenue.”
The anti-casino coalition was a diverse one. In Norway, the Oxford Hills No on 1 campaign included pastors and business owners from around the county. Moose Pond Arts and Ecology co-founders Scott and Zizi Vlaun led the group.
“Every time it refreshes we're picking up points. We're in a dead heat,” Scott Vlaun said. “We're not going to bed.”
“We think because Penobscot County has only reported half of their votes and we're running so strong there that once they get all their votes in, we could surge ahead,” he said.
CasinosNo! has been around since 2002 to oppose casino referendums across Maine. With 3,000 members, the group has fought several casino proposals in recent years, including a 2008 referendum for an Oxford County casino.
Dennis Bailey, executive director of CasinosNo!, said he was confident the referendum would fail as Republican Paul LePage gained on independent Eliot Cutler in the race for governor each time more precincts reported in.
“We know from polling: As LePage does better, we do better," Bailey said. "A lot of Republicans are with us on this.”
Citizens Against the Oxford Casino included gambling interests that would be hurt by an Oxford Hills Casino, such as Hollywood Slots in Bangor and the Maine Harness Horsemen's Association. The Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs was also a sponsor.
Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School journalism student Abby Shanor contributed to this report.