AUGUSTA – Mainers will have the opportunity to tell lawmakers how they feel about a proposed casino in Oxford County at 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 2. That’s when a public hearing is scheduled before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee addressing the latest bid to build a casino in the state.

The bill is a citizen initiative, which means if the Legislature fails to pass it or if the governor vetoes it, the proposal will automatically be on November’s ballot for a statewide vote.

“These things are only going to work if the citizens vote them in,” said Robert Welch, executive director of Maine’s Gambling Control Board, who plans on testifying against the bill on behalf of the Department of Public Safety. “Obviously the governor is not going to go along with it unless it is a citizen initiative.”

Gov. John Baldacci vetoed a bill that would have allowed a casino to open in Washington County last year and Maine residents voted to reject it as well.

“(Baldacci) doesn’t support the Oxford County bill and would veto it if it passed the Legislature,” said David Farmer, spokesman for the governor.

The bill would send 39 percent of the facility’s profits back to the state, earmarked to specific programs including health care, student loan repayment and an east-west highway.

But the bill also includes several other provisions, including lowering the state gambling age from 21 to 19, placing a 10-year moratorium on building other casinos in Maine and granting the casino’s president a seat on all the boards of state agencies and programs that benefit from it financially.

Welch, of the Gambling Control Board, said lowering of the gambling age concerns him, but he is also worried because the bill would allow the casino to open lines of credit for gamblers.

“I have a huge, huge problem with that,” Welch said. “Right now it’s prohibited under (state) rules. In other words, right now you play with the money you’ve got, you don’t play with credit.”

Dennis Bailey, who heads the CasinosNo! political action committee and works for a public relations firm in Portland, said he also plans on voicing opposition to the bill at the public hearing. He said he expects the bill to fail in the Legislature or get vetoed.

“The chances are good that this will go to the ballot in November,” Bailey said.

A major proponent of the legislation is Seth Carey of Rumford, president of Evergreen Mountain Enterprises LLC, a group formed to promote the casino. Carey turned in more than 70,000 signatures last month to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, ensuring that the measure will face a statewide referendum if the Legislature or Baldacci kills it.

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