Slots foes seek 2007 referendum

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BANGOR (AP) – Separate proposals to allow a racetrack casino in Washington County and to outlaw slot machines statewide could share Maine’s referendum ballot in November 2007.

No Slots for ME, a Westbrook-based group that pushed unsuccessfully for a 2006 vote to ban slot machines, said Monday it is seeking to gather enough signatures to get the measure on next year’s ballot.

“The problems that prompted us to try this in the first place are still there,” said Doug Muir, spokesman for No Slots for ME. “We see no reason to slow down.”

The latest effort gives his group the chance to seek signatures outside polling places during next month’s primary elections and in the general election in November, Muir said.

The group needs signatures totaling at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the 2006 gubernatorial election, which is likely to translate to about 50,000 signatures.

Backers of a Down East tribal casino fell a few thousand signatures short of gaining a spot on next November’s ballot but have until August to collect the remaining names to qualify for November 2007.

Penn National Gaming, whose Hollywood Slots in Bangor is Maine’s only slots facility, expressed disappointment at the latest attempt to outlaw the machines and said it would not halt progress on the company’s plan to build a $75 million permanent facility across from Bass Park.

“We’re not going to let them stand in the way of progress,” company spokesman Eric Schippers said. “We’re going to focus on the benefits, and they’re apparently going to focus on destroying jobs.”

Muir said money poured into slot machines could have been spent elsewhere in the local economy without the social ills that accompany gambling.

He also expressed concern that the Bangor facility sets a precedent that could pave the way for more slot machine parlors in Maine.

“The argument is so compelling,” Muir said, citing the proposed Washington County racino and a recent report about a proposal for casino gambling in Oxford County. “If there’s one, why shouldn’t every group have a slots parlor?” he said.

Dan Tremble, a slots supporter and former Bangor city councilor, asserted that the push for a ban is being driven by southern Maine interests intent on keeping slots out of that region.

“They need to just leave us alone,” Tremble said. “They have enough trouble taking care of southern Maine.”

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