AUGUSTA – Maine voters will again get to decide whether they want a private casino in the Pine Tree State.

If approved by voters, the casino, as proposed by attorney Seth Carey, 33, of Rumford, would have to be located in Oxford County and would distribute 39 percent of its profits to a laundry list of public programs.

Carey is also the president of Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC, which was formed to promote the casino.

Among other things, casino profits would be earmarked for a Maine student loan repayment program, research and design for an east-west highway, health care and prescription drug subsidy programs, a rural road improvement fund and an Androscoggin River clean-up fund.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed Wednesday that Carey had collected 59,504 valid signatures from registered Maine voters.

“This exceeds the number of signatures required for the citizen initiative to move forward in the process,” Dunlap said in a prepared statement.

In all, Carey’s political action committee, MaineCasinosNow.com, turned in more than 77,000 signatures, but at least 10,000 were tossed out because they did not belong to registered Maine voters, Carey said.

The Maine Legislature can approve the measure as proposed or vote to send it to general election voters in November.

Carey said he was pleased the signature drive was a success, but was holding off celebrating because now a campaign to sell the measure to Maine voters must begin. The signature-gathering campaign alone has left Carey’s PAC with nearly $100,000 in debt.

“We really haven’t accomplished anything. The time to be happy about it is when voters approve it in November,” Carey said. The next step is to raise money and support for what Carey expects will be a long political battle.

Opponents to casino gambling in Maine were already taking the offensive Wednesday.

CasinosNo!, another political action committee headed by Dennis Bailey, a Portland public relations firm executive and former spokesman for former Gov. Angus King, issued a tersely worded missive deriding the idea of a casino in Oxford County.

“Casino operators are known for their greed, but this bill outdoes them all,” Bailey stated. “Along with a monopoly on casino gambling, this bill is nothing more than a power grab by casino promoters who are out to get control of every corner of the state.”

Bailey criticized specific points in the proposed legislation to be enacted if Carey’s casino plan is approved, including a proposed 10-year moratorium on any other casinos in Maine and the lowering of the state’s legal gambling age from 21 to 19. Bailey also took issue with a proposed requirement to appoint the casino’s president to the state boards or agencies in line for revenues from the venture.

Nearly 24 state programs would get a slice of the casinos revenues under the legislation, Bailey said.

“That means, at a minimum, the president of the Oxford County casino would be a voting member of the Finance Authority of Maine, the Land for Maine’s Future Board, the University of Maine Board of Trustees, the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees and the Oxford County Commissioners.

“He’s going to be a busy guy,” Bailey said of the casino official. “It’s bizarre. Do we really want the head of a casino making all kinds of decisions about higher education, land conservation and health care spending?”

At present, Maine has one casino, or racino, that’s associated with a nearby harness racing track in Bangor.

As of its second anniversary last November, Penn National Gaming Inc.’s Hollywood Slots at Bangor had surpassed more than $1 billion in wagers and $74 million in net revenue.

Maine voters in 2003 authorized racinos as a way to revitalize the state’s harness racing industry, but in the same election, soundly rejected a referendum calling for an Indian-run casino complex in Sanford.

Last November, Maine voters rejected a proposal by the Passamaquoddy Indian tribe to build a casino and harness racing complex in eastern Maine’s Washington County.

Carey said he understands the challenge of selling the proposal to the Legislature and Gov. John Baldacci, who opposes casinos as an economic development tool and has vetoed past proposals.

Evergreen’s proposal is different from what the Passamaquoddy Tribe proposed last fall, and he would run his campaign differently, Carey said.

As it appears on the circulated petitions, the question states, “Do you want to allow a certain Maine company to have the only casino in Maine, to be located in Oxford County, if part of the revenue is used to fund specific state programs?”

Carey said he’s looking forward to the upcoming debate.

“It’s really a difference in philosophies,” Carey said. Maine’s lost manufacturing-sector jobs need to be replaced, at least in part, with tourism sector jobs, and bringing more tourists to the state means offering them more to do, including gambling, Carey said. The state’s growing budget shortfall along with a foundering economy is more evidence it’s time to try different things to create jobs for Mainers and tax revenue for the state, he added.

While he is not ready to go public on certain critical details of his plan, including specifically where the casino would be located or who would operate it, he would be ready soon, Carey said.

“We are definitely going down the road towards getting those questions answered,” he said.

Citing a recent University of Maine at Orono study and report showing a casino in Oxford would generate an estimated $100 million a year in profits, Carey said he was confident when all the facts are known that voters will support his plan.

Having the vote during a presidential election year, when there’s a high level of interest and the potential for a large turnout by younger voters would benefit his campaign.

But the next step was securing the financing for that campaign, Carey said.

“I know we have the better argument and people will vote for it, but they need to hear the facts and we need to get that out, but we need money to pay for that,” Carey said.

As of Wednesday, the Oxford County casino was the only initiative to have qualified for the November 2008 ballot, the Secretary of State’s office said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 


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