AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill Wednesday night to allow slot machines in the state’s five off-track betting facilities.

The House voted 112-29 in favor of the bill, and the Senate followed with a 24-6 vote. The margins are meaningful because they are large enough to override a veto by Gov. John Baldacci, who has vowed to try to shoot down the bill.

The bill was introduced by the harness racing industry, which views slot machines as a way to pump new life, and revenues, into the ailing industry.

“Hopefully, we can hang onto these votes when the time comes,” said Robert Tardy, a lobbyist for Scarborough Downs race track.

Industry lobbyists attributed the strong legislative support for the bill to the persistence of individual members of the harness racing community and supporters of the state’s agricultural fairs.

The Legislature’s approval of the slot machine bill came the day after Bangor voters backed a proposal by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent to allow slot machines at Bangor Raceway.

Although the Bangor Raceway measure must be approved in a statewide referendum in November, the bill passed by the Legislature Wednesday will become law if the governor cannot persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds and sustain his veto.

Baldacci sees slot machines as an impediment to what he considers real economic development in the state.

“I want them to uphold my veto and I hope they respect that we can’t have that kind of thing in our state. It’s important just to say no,” Baldacci said.

There are now off-track betting facilities in Bangor, Waterville, Lewiston, Brunswick and Sanford.

The measure passed Wednesday would leave the bulk of the profits with the off-track facilities, and send 13 percent to harness racing industry accounts to provide more money for purses and horse-breeding programs.

It also would distribute 4 percent of the profits to the state’s agricultural fairs. The bill earmarks 1 percent of the profits for cessation programs for addicted gamblers and 3 percent of the profits to the municipality in which the business is located.

Commercial track operators at Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs would share 5 percent of the gross profits based on the number of racing days.

The state’s share of the profits would be 28 percent or, according to proponents, around $62 million annually.

To overturn a governor’s veto, two-thirds of the members present in the House and Senate must vote in favor of overriding the veto. Had that vote been taken Wednesday night, the governor would have lost based on the final votes on the bill.

AP-ES-06-12-03 0216EDT



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