The Senate also will consider the issue.

AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine House voted Thursday to let Mainers decide in November whether a casino should be built in southern Maine.

By an 85-55 tally, representatives voted against passing a citizen-initiated bill authorizing Maine’s Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians to build a $650 million gambling casino, deciding instead to send the question to referendum.

In doing so, the House cast aside a competing question that would have directed that the casino be built in a to-be-determined economically depressed area of the state. The amendment would also subject the project to a bidding process.

“I was not at all surprised by the vote,” Fred Moore, a nonvoting representative of the Passamaquoddy Tribe in the House, said after a debate that lasted for the better part of an hour.

Senate consideration was pending.

During the House debate, lawmakers expressed frustration they will not have a hand in fashioning a gaming law.

“I’m disappointed that this issue has been taken out of our hands,” said Assistant House Minority Leader David Bowles, a Republican who represents the Sanford district where the facility would be located.

“We couldn’t clarify this bill … we can’t change it now,” said Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, a member of the Judiciary Committee whose majority voted to send the bill directly to voters. “I have great concerns with this bill.”

Passage of the alternative question would have put a competing question on the November ballot, lowering the odds of the Indians-backed casino question passing on the first try. Passage will allow them to run slot machines, card games and lotteries.

The two Indian tribes plan to present a preliminary plan for the casino resort by mid-July.

The Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes are continuing their negotiations with land owners near Sanford Regional Airport, where they hope to locate the new casino.

Sanford was the only community in southern Maine to vote in favor of a possible casino.

Selectmen expect to vote next week whether to create a citizens committee to study the impact a casino resort would have on the town of 20,000.

Portland lawyers Thomas Tureen and Erin Lehane, the tribes’ representatives, sat down Wednesday with the selectmen’s casino subcommittee for the first time since last fall, when voters approved the concept of a casino resort in town.

The workshop drew about 25 residents. Committee members discussed the casino’s hours to serve liquor and the casino’s potential benefits to the town. Public comment was not allowed.

Selectmen urged casino proponents to start meeting with residents to show them how they expect the casino to fit into the community.

Town administrator John Granfield said he was concerned the casino would be a self-contained enclave, importing services and employees from outside with little benefit to the town.

Tureen said it would be in the casino resort’s interest to have a close relationship with the town.

Unlike the Foxwoods casino in Ledyard, Conn., operated by the Mashantucket Pequots on tribal grounds, the Sanford casino would be built on nontribal lands and would be subject to full local control.

The political action committee Think About It organized the referendum drive to bring the casino to Sanford. Las Vegas casino developer Marnell Corrao Associates is backing the project and would build and operate the facility.

AP-ES-05-29-03 1855EDT

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