AUBURN — As plans for a downtown casino in Bates Mill No. 5 in Lewiston fell overwhelmingly at the polls Tuesday night, the mood at the campaign's headquarters changed from sadness to anger.
While casino supporter Peter Robinson hurled insults at casino foes celebrating on a television tuned to the nightly news, campaign spokesman and Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert blamed everyone from Gov. Paul LePage to the Maine media.
"Do I sound upset?" Gilbert said. "You bet. I'm upset at the governor, for getting involved in things when he said he wouldn't. I smelled a rat then and I smell one now."
Question 3 failed spectacularly at the polls, picking up only 37 percent support statewide as of 10:30 p.m. The casino won in Lewiston, but by a mere 900 votes — not the kind of hometown supporter backers needed.
"I'm shocked that we didn't do better," said Stavros Mendros, manager of Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment. His group backed the Lewiston plan.
In their hearts, casino backers know they have the right idea, Mendros said. They're sure local people recognize that and support their plan.
"I've been hearing something more and more over the last few days, and that's 'thank you,'" Mendros said. "I had one woman come up to me last week and she said, 'Thank you for supporting us, thank you for believing in Lewiston.' And that really hits home for us. That's why we're doing this."
The casino idea is not dead, Mendros said. He'd like to bring it back — and the work will begin right away.
"We'll certainly regroup, go to the city and see what we can do," Mendros said. "We'll regroup, make some changes and shoot for 2013."
Mendros said he was puzzled that the Lewiston proposal drew so much fire from anti-casino forces in the past few weeks. Questions about potential developers and casino managers hurt the campaign.
"Next time, we'll get our developer on board early," Mendros said. He said the group delayed hunting for a developer, spending its energy last summer urging state legislators to pass the Lewiston plan without a referendum.
"I thought we had no chance with the Legislature at first, but when we got some pretty good response, that's where we spent our money and our energy," he said. "We were there for two, three months when we could have been courting developers and securing money for our campaign. That was a miscalculation, and all we ended up having was GTSource. We didn't fund the campaign the way we wanted to."
Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment agreed to buy slot machines from Kennesaw, Ga.-based GTSource Corp. if the Lewiston casino won voter approval statewide. The company funded much of the group's local campaign.
Mayor Gilbert blamed LePage for the loss, for saying last week that five casinos were too many. That quote was used by casino foes to push against the Lewiston effort, even though LePage later changed his stance.
"I fault the governor," Gilbert said. "It's clearly evident that I don't care for this guy because he comes from Lewiston and he's done nothing for Lewiston. I find that most unfortunate."
Dan Billings, Gov. LePage's chief legal counsel, defended LePage.
"Anyone who knows the governor knows that when he’s asked a question, he answers it," Billings said. "He was asked a question and he answered. It wasn’t a matter of getting involved in the campaign and he never told anyone how to vote. He basically said what he thought about the economics of going from two to five casinos."
Billings said casino supporters should take a closer look at their campaign strategy before blaming others.
"I think people show their true colors when times are tough for them, and that’s what we’re seeing here," Billings said. "Instead of looking at the campaign they ran, they want to lash out at people."
Gilbert also blamed Maine media for having a distorted view of Lewiston.
"The only time people come here to write stories is about negative stories," Gilbert said. "Consequently, what you get is a steady diet of negative things."
Robinson said he was more angry than sad, but he said he feels Lewiston lost its casino the moment Oxford won its casino.
"As soon as they won, they had a vested interest and a huge stake in it and they were willing to fight dirty," Robinson said. "That's exactly what they did, and this is the result."
The gathering was muted, with a handful of supporters stopping by but leaving early as results trickled in.
Casino supporter Steve Palian of Greene said he was disappointed.
"This would have put something back," Palian said. "We've lost textiles jobs, shoe-making jobs; they've all gone overseas. The casino would have provided a good source of revenues, even exceeding what we lost. So it's a shame."