Panel splits vote on casino proposal


AUGUSTA – After hours of discussion Thursday, a legislative committee voted 9-4 to send a citizen initiative to establish a casino in Oxford County to a statewide vote.

The Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee also voted against adding an alternative proposal that would have allowed three casinos in Maine.

The alternative proposal crafted by representatives of the Oxford County proposal, Penn National Gaming, which runs Hollywood Slots in Bangor and the Passamaquoddy Tribe could still end up on the ballot if the full Legislature passes it with a simple majority.

“It’s unclear at this moment where this is going to end up,” said Peter Martin, spokesman for Black Bear Entertainment, the group backing the Oxford proposal.

“We’ll try to press forward with the competing measure as long as it doesn’t compromise the Oxford initiative, as written,” Martin said. “If there was a floor amendment that watered down the Oxford initiative, we would immediately not be supportive of it and attempt to go it alone.”

Some legislators who voted against the last-minute deal to expand casino gambling beyond Oxford said they were pleased the compromise was brokered.

Sen. Nancy Sullivan, D-Biddeford, chairwoman of the committee, expressed support for the concept of allowing three casinos. But too many details were left unfinished, she said. “I am not in favor of putting this together because we lack the time to see what the Legislature is agreeing to.”

Martin said that given more time, the committee would have shown more support for the compromise.

“They feel pressured and rushed because we’re really at the 11th hour and 59th minute right now,” he said. “However, if they gave us instructions to get it done, we could get it done. I believe leadership has got them on a short leash at this moment and everybody is trying to work within the time frames allotted.”

The vote fell mostly along partisan lines, though Rep. Wright Pinkham Sr., R-Lexington Township, joined Democrats in support of sending only the initial Oxford County proposal to a statewide vote.

“I think we pushed too fast and it’s too big an issue to make those decisions in the Legislature,” Pinkham said. “I may, half an hour from now, be in a different position, but right now I would like to see it go to the people exactly as I signed the petition to do.”

The measure will be scheduled for votes in the House and Senate. If a majority votes to send it directly to referendum, Mainers would decide this year whether to allow a casino in Oxford County. If a majority of lawmakers supports the proposal allowing casinos in Oxford, Penobscot and Washington counties, Maine voters would have three options: They could vote for the citizen initiative, approve the alternative version, or reject both.

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