AUGUSTA (AP) – George McHale, a nine-year veteran of the state Harness Racing Commission under previous governors, won endorsement Wednesday for another stint on the panel as it faces the thorny issue of slot machines at race tracks.

“I think it’s resolvable,” McHale said after the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry voted 12-0 to endorse his nomination for an open seat on the commission.

“Racino is going to be a fact. It’s going to exist.”

McHale, known to many Maine television viewers as George Hale, said it’s unclear now whether he would even get to address the racino issue if he wins Senate confirmation to the racing commission because so many questions remain unanswered.

“We have to sit back a little bit and see what happens,” the longtime Bangor broadcaster said.

Gov. John Baldacci last week named three appointees to the five-member Harness Racing Commission.

, which has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 11 on Penn National Gaming Inc.’s application to run the Bangor Historic Track. The Wyomissing, Pa.-based company wants to open a racetrack casino there.

Maine voters last November authorized slot machines under certain conditions at commercial harness racing tracks, but Baldacci since then has submitted a bill to create a state Gambling Control Board to license and regulate slot machines.

If Baldacci’s bill is not enacted by Feb. 21, slot machines will continue to be regulated by the Harness Racing Commission under less-restrictive rules.

Baldacci, who is personally opposed to racinos, has dismissed suggestions he is trying to stack the deck with his own appointees in order to influence the commission’s actions on racinos.

“He thinks it’s time to name his own people,” said Baldacci spokesman Lee Umphrey.

Confirmation hearings have not yet been held for the governor’s other two nominees, South Portland lawyer Anne Jordan, who would replace Chairman Errol Additon, and James Tracy of Farmingdale, who would serve another term.

McHale told the agriculture committee Wednesday that he’s seen his share of controversy as a commissioner during previous terms. He mentioned a dispute between Joseph Ricci, the late owner of Scarborough Downs, and the now-closed Lewiston Raceway over racing dates.

“We resolved it peacefully,” said McHale.

Recalling the telephone call in which he was asked to serve another term, McHale said Baldacci expressed a need for someone with experience on the commission.

“The job has had a tendency to follow me rather than me following the job,” McHale said. No one opposed his appointment to the commission.

AP-ES-02-04-04 1622EST

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