House votes against sending casino plan straight to voters

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The Maine House of Representatives voted on Wednesday morning against sending a citizen’s initiative to establish a casino in Oxford County straight to the ballot.

During committee deliberations on the citizen’s initiative for the Oxford County casino, a trio of interests, including the initiative’s sponsor, united behind a different proposal that would allow for casinos to be built in Oxford, Penobscot and Washington counties. Under that plan, Black Bear Entertainment, the coalition of investors who collected signatures for the citizen’s initiative, would have rights to the casino in Oxford, Penn National Gaming, which runs Hollywood Slots in Bangor, would be allowed to add table games to their facility, and the Passamaquoddy Tribe would have rights to build a casino in Washington County.

Supporters of sending just the Oxford County casino proposal to voters said the Legislature should respect the wishes of the more the 100,000 Mainers who signed the petitions collected by Black Bear Entertainment. Opponents said many groups, particularly Maine’s native tribes, have been slighted by the state when it comes to gambling measures in the past and that the three-casino alternative would help level the playing field.

A majority of the committee had voted against the alternative; a minority supported it.

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After the full House voted Wednesday 81-69 against sending the measure as originally written out to voters, the issue was set aside. The House will next schedule a vote on the minority report — the three-casino option — before the legislation moves to the Senate for votes.

Citizen’s initiatives come to the Legislature for approval. If a majority of lawmakers oppose the initiative, it is placed on a statewide ballot to be voted on by all state voters. But if the Legislature changes the bill in any way, it becomes a “competing measure” to the original. In that case, the issue goes before voters as a three-part question, which allows voters to support the original proposal, the Legislature’s proposal or defeat both.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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