PORTLAND – The proposal to build a casino in York County was dealt a crushing defeat by Maine voters Tuesday, ending a costly campaign that was marred by a record fine for violations of state campaign finance laws.
With about 75 percent of precincts reporting, Question 1 on the ballot was losing by a whopping 83-17 percent.
Conceding the loss, casino entrepreneur Shawn Scott thanked a roomful of supporters gathered at Bruno’s Restaurant and Tavern in Portland.
“We really love this state, it’s a great place and it will always be special in our hearts, it will continue to be,” Scott said. “That being said, the results don’t look encouraging and we are, of course disappointed with the outcome. I want to thank everyone for joining in what we thought, and still believe is a great project for Maine.”
Roy Lenardson, spokesman for A Bad Deal for Maine, a political action committee that opposed the casino, said in an interview that voters deserved credit for seeing through a flawed ballot question.
“We’ve heard a lot lately about voters being tricked by ballot questions but this is vindication of the Maine voter,” Lenardson said. “As much as a I would like to take credit for this, it’s a case of democracy working. Everybody did their job, from the governor to the Legislature to the Ethics Commission to the media, who dove into this story. Voters got the information they needed and they made a good decision.”
The question would have allowed only one company, Scott’s Capital Seven, to apply for a casino license that state officials estimated would be worth as much as $200 million. The ballot measure would also have required Scott’s company to pay a $5 million licensing fee to the state.
The campaign for the casino had ground on for nearly two years, starting in December of 2015 with a petition seeking voter signatures that was launched by Scott’s sister, Lisa Scott. She said she was financing the ballot push and would be the developer of the casino, at an undisclosed location in York County.
It was later revealed that Shawn Scott and his Nevada-based Capital Seven, along with other business partners and companies, were the primary sources of the campaign’s funding and were also largely calling the shots.
One Portland voter, Max Romero, 37, said he voted against Question 1. Romero is Native American, and he said he was motivated by a joint statement from the leaders of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes, who opposed the casino.
“Plus I don’t think we need another casino,” he said with a shrug.
Evan Burnham, 33, also opposed the York County casino.
“I grew up in Connecticut near Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods (casinos),” Burnham said.
He saw those casinos create problems for traffic and emergency management in his home state, he said, and he didn’t want to see the same problems in Maine.
Buxton voter Elaine Arsenault stopped by town hall to vote during a mid-afternoon lull. Arsenault said she had one reason for voting: opposition to Question 1, the casino proposal.
“I don’t think we need another casino,” she said. “Two is enough.”
Denise Dionne was one of several South Portland residents who said they voted against the casino referendum because they didn’t like the kind of jobs it would create, or they didn’t trust the project’s backers, or they just didn’t want another casino in Maine.
“I don’t want it,” said Dionne, 54, a home renovator. “Go somewhere else. Do they have to be everywhere?”
Shawn Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slots to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine the first of its two casinos. He then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Hollywood Casino – for $51 million.
Those opposing the ballot initiative were largely bankrolled by the owners of Oxford Casino, the Kentucky-based horseracing giant Churchill Downs. Opponents spent $676,609 – most of it on political advertising in newspapers, television, radio and online – according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission.
Shawn Scott and a collection of business associates and partners poured more than six times that amount, or $4.3 million, into a pro-casino political action committee, Progress For Maine. The PAC pushed the casino as a “gaming and entertainment center” that would create more than 2,000 permanent jobs and generate $45 million in annual tax revenue, according to an economic analysis paid for by the campaign.
The Progress for Maine PAC spending was in addition to more than $4.5 million spent by a series of ballot question committees in 2015 and 2016 to gather the voter signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot. Those committees, also funded by Shawn Scott and a series of global business associates and partners, were the subject of an ethics commission probe.
Last week the commission fined the committees a total of $500,000 for missing campaign finance report filing deadlines and failing to disclose the actual source of funds for the signature-gathering effort.
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:
Shawn Scott speaks to his mother, Victoria Scott, at Bruno’s restaurant in Portland on Tuesday as election results come in. The Scott family is behind the proposal for a York County casino. (Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)