LEWISTON — Success at the polls for the proposed Oxford County casino almost guarantees a win next year in Lewiston, say backers of a Bates Mill casino plan.
"If voters say yes in Oxford County, I think that signals the end to the opposition to casinos in Maine," said Stavros Mendros of the Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment District.
And if voters turn down the Oxford plan?
"It means a bigger development for us," Mendros said. "If they win, they'll go all out and we'll build smaller, just the slot parlor. But if they lose, we're going after the big project with a convention center and all of it."
Mendros and his team were busy at the polls around Maine on Tuesday, collecting signatures to get their plan on the ballot a year from now. Lewiston casino backers went into Tuesday having already collected 50,000 signatures.
Mendros said he was confident his signature-gatherers could pick up another 20,000 signatures at the polls Tuesday, which should put the citizen-initiative effort over the top. Lewiston casino supporters must collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in Tuesday's election. That could mean 70,000 signatures if turnout is massive.
"I don't think turnout will be too huge, so we'll be well over the top," Mendros said. He expected to file his signatures in November — two months ahead of the deadline — to get the proposal on the November 2011 ballot.
Lewiston voters have already registered their support, voting 5,041 to 2,574 in June to give the Great Falls group a $150,000 option to purchase the empty Bates Mill No. 5 in the heart of downtown Lewiston.
According to the plan, if voters approve the measure statewide in 2011, the casino group will pay Lewiston an appraised price for the building.
Backers have said the Lewiston plan makes more sense than the Oxford plan because the Bates Mill site is in the middle of a developed, urban area in need of an economic boost.
Mendros said he was confident he could sell that to voters statewide.
"We'll start a campaign in earnest in the summer," he said. But what the project looks like depends a lot on what happens in Oxford County.
"I'm pretty sure that if it passes, we will pass with no problem," Mendros said. "And if it loses, I think we'll be in prime position. We have a better plan and a better offering."