Fair representative says racing will continue

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PARIS — A representative of the Oxford Fair said horse racing will continue at the fairgrounds’ track despite negotiations to sell it to a casino development group.

“We’re trying to make sure that that track is there for years to come, generations to come,” said Lance Bean, treasurer of the Oxford County Fair Association. Bean has also been designated as a negotiator and spokesman in discussions between the fair’s board of directors and Black Bear Entertainment, which is looking to develop a resort casino in Oxford and proposed buying the track.

Bean answered questions Wednesday at the monthly meeting of the Western Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, a group whose mission is to “enhance public awareness, foster education and promote equine responsibility in the Maine standardbred community.” The organization asked Bean to attend the meeting due to concerns about the effect the potential purchase might have on racing and other activities at the track.

The proposal was floated because the language in the bill currently before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee in the Legislature requires Black Bear to own a commercial track as a requirement to establish a casino. Peter Martin, spokesman for Black Bear, formerly said the casino would not be established at the fairgrounds. He also said Suzanne Grover, president of the fair’s board of directors, and Rupert Grover, her husband and a director on the board, were not involved in the board’s decision to negotiate a purchase or any subsequent votes on the matter. The Grovers are among the partners forming Black Bear.

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Sonya MacDonald, a director on the Western Maine Horsemen board, said she was skeptical of the casino effort and proposed transfer of ownership. She said she felt the proposed legislation is “self-serving.”

“It’s not just horsemen who are going to suffer. It’s everything related to it,” MacDonald said.

Bean stressed that no transfer has been finalized, and members of the fair association are trying to keep out of the “political” aspect of the casino debate. He said any lease between the fair and Black Bear would be at the fair’s discretion, preventing the possibility that the casino could cut off racing at the track and allowing the fair to decide whether to renew the lease. He also said any lease would be null and void if the casino question is defeated.

Bean said a lease could also help defray expenses involved in maintaining the track. He said the fair’s attendance has increased dramatically, but that revenue is still limited to what the fair in September can generate and can easily be affected by poor weather or other factors.

“We are trying to make sure there is a place to race,” Bean said. “We do what we can based on what we can get.”

Allison MacDonald, president of the Western Maine Horsemen, said the group will invite Martin to speak at a future meeting.

mlangeveld@sunjournal.com

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