Paul LePage rips proposal to expand gambling in Maine

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Proponents of a controversial ballot question that would allow a third casino in Maine tout the measure as a way to “say yes to better education and more jobs.”

What it is really about, though, is “gambling, plain and simple,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a radio address released Tuesday.

He said those behind  Question 1 on the Nov. 7 ballot are “not being honest and upfront” and are simply trying to confuse voters into endorsing a proposal that could cripple existing casinos in Oxford and Bangor.

What the ballot question would do is to authorize a new casino somewhere in York County that would share its revenue with veterans, schools, college students and others. The most unusual part of the proposal is that it would allow only one person, Shawn Scott, to apply for a $5 million state license to build the gambling and entertainment facility.

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Scott, a gambling kingpin who has operated internationally, secured a referendum win in 2003 to allow slot machines to boost the horse track in Bangor. He sold his stake to Penn National for $51 million, turning a big profit on the deal.

State officials are probing Scott, his sister and others as they explore who funded the $4.3 million initiative that gathered the signatures to require the proposal land on this year’s ballot.

“This gambling initiative is not an open or fair process,” LePage said. “In fact, it’s yet another case of big-money, out-of-state interests using Maine voters to get a sweet deal.”

He called it “a phony deal for Maine” and “a stacked deck.”

The governor said that supporters of the casino “are using a bait-and-switch tactic that has nothing to do with funding schools or creating jobs” and called their promises of an economic windfall overblown.

“Our casino market is already saturated,” LePage said. There are also two large casinos under construction in Massachusetts that will surely attract Mainers, he said.

“Opening a casino in York County will not draw new revenue or visitors to the state,” he said. “It will just shift funds away from our existing casinos” and potentially destroy their viability.

Supporters of the new casino, operating under the name Progress for Maine, said LePage “is opposed to a new gaming and entertainment venue given the Republican governor and the GOP’s political action committees have received tens of thousands of dollars from Kentucky-based Churchill Downs and its lobbying arm in Maine.”

The governor “needs to think about Maine first and not his friends in Kentucky, because gaming is a competitive industry and Massachusetts is gearing up to capture as much revenue as possible from neighboring states,” proponents said in a prepared statement.

The measure would increase the number of slot machines allowed in Maine from 3,000 to 4,500. Supporters said the new casino would provide more than 2,000 permanent jobs and contribute nearly $250 million in taxes during its first five years of operation.

LePage urged voters to reject the proposal.

“Once again, Maine’s referendum process has been hijacked by big money, out-of-state interests hoping to pull the wool over your eyes,” he said.

scollins@sunjournal.com

Gov. Paul LePage

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