Oxford County casino backers support alternative bill

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AUGUSTA — The sponsors of a citizen initiative to allow a casino in Oxford County told lawmakers Wednesday that their group supports an alternative bill that would allow their casino, a casino in Washington County and table games at Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

Peter Martin, spokesman for Black Bear Entertainment, told the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee that his group supports the “competing measure” as long as the integrity of the Oxford County proposal is maintained.

“If I thought they were going to come in and change the intent of the Oxford language, where the money went to education, things of that nature, and change the issue of the Oxford resort itself, I would not be discussing this right now,” Martin said. “However, the Bangor facility exists already; the Passamaquoddy-proposed casino is almost 250 miles away, so there isn’t any market issue. Neither one of those facilities impacts what we are going to do in Oxford.”

Martin made a presentation of the new proposal to Oxford County commissioners Tuesday.

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Last week, Martin testified against such a proposal during a public hearing on the citizen initiative. Asked about the change, Martin said, “What happened was, people change their minds.”

He said winning statewide voter approval for a casino in Oxford County was his highest priority.

“We will join forces with Penn (National), who can deliver Penobscot County, no question about that,” Martin said. “It’s all about winning; I’m not going to deny that. It’s all about what is the best thing we can do, keeping the integrity of the Oxford bill intact and gaining more votes.”

A previous attempt to establish a casino in the town of Oxford failed in a 2008 referendum by about 54 percent to 46 percent. Penobscot and Washington counties voted heavily against the measure.

Penn National Gaming runs the Hollywood Slots facility in Bangor. It owns and runs casinos and slot facilities across the country. In 2005, its revenues exceeded $2 billion, according to its Web site.

Martin said he’d rather have Penn National lobbying in support of an Oxford County casino, than against it.

Members of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee did not take a vote on the measure Wednesday but had mixed reactions. No one expressed initial support for the new proposal, but many were interested in continuing to work on it.

State Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said he was concerned the new proposal, based on negotiations by the three interested parties, was not the intent of the citizen initiative.

“The intent was for one full casino,” he said. “Truly, this is a broad expansion of gambling.”

State Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, said he was uncomfortable with the idea of taking on such a substantive change in the proposal so late in the legislative session, but he was willing to support further discussion.

Carey said a Lewiston-based casino as envisioned by some local businessmen was not part of the conversation.

The committee is scheduled to continue the discussion on Thursday.

rmetzler@sunjournal.com

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