AUGUSTA (AP) – Some members of a legislative committee considering tougher state regulation of slot machines at harness tracks have suggested that the effective date of Maine’s voter-approved racino law be pushed back to allow more time for revisions.

The Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee next Wednesday will explore the idea of delaying the legalization of racinos from Feb. 21 until April at the earliest.

But critics of such a delay, including Gov. John Baldacci and some racino supporters, say such a move would undermine the will of the voters and give the Legislature more time than it needs to complete action on Baldacci’s bill to crack down on slot machines.

In a statewide referendum in November, voters allowed Bangor to install slot machines at the Bangor Raceway. The city has a deal with promoter Shawn Scott to operate a racino at the track, but Penn National Gaming is in the process of acquiring Bangor Historic Track from Scott and is in line to obtain a conditional license from the Maine Harness Racing Commission on Feb. 13.

Such a license would allow Penn National to offer harness racing and install slot machines at Bangor Raceway, unless the Legislature acts before Feb. 21 to establish a separate licensing process for slots.

Baldacci’s 39-page bill would create a state Gambling Control Board to license and regulate slot machines. Under the governor’s bill, Penn National would have to get a slots license from the Gambling Control Board, and the company would have to compensate the state for regulatory costs and lost lottery revenues.

Baldacci wants the Legislature to approve tighter racino controls before the Feb. 21 kickoff of the voter-approved law because he fears that Penn National could use its harness license to install slot machines in Bangor shortly after the law’s effective date.

But the legislative committee working on Baldacci’s bill already has dozens of possible changes under review. The proposals include one to give Scarborough Downs more time to site a racino of its own; the track failed to find a host community under the 2003 deadline spelled out in the voter-approved law.

If the Legislature cannot realistically act on Baldacci’s bill by Feb. 21, some lawmakers argue, then the Legislature should push back that Feb. 21 startup for the original racino law.

“I have said consistently we’re going to take this slowly and methodically,” and that may require more time than a Feb. 21 deadline would allow, said Sen. Kenneth Gagnon, D-Waterville, the co-chairman of the legislative committee and the person who proposed delaying the effective date of the racino law.

Baldacci, however, made it plain that a delay is not an option. “The governor’s position is the people have spoken” by passing a law that is supposed to take effect Feb. 21, said his spokesman, Lee Umphrey.

AP-ES-01-23-04 0216EST

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