PORTLAND – A new poll commissioned by the company that wants to build a $184 million resort casino in Oxford indicates that likely voters are narrowly divided on the project in what amounts to a statistical dead heat.

The survey by the market research firm Critical Insights, which was commissioned by casino developer Olympia Gaming, showed 47 percent in favor of the plan, 46 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.

The poll results were announced at a news conference at Critical Insights by MaryEllen FitzGerald, its president, and Pat LaMarche, spokeswoman for the Vote Yes on 2 committee.

FitzGerald cited movement in favor of the casino among “values-focused voters,” who are conservative and religious and have opposed gambling initiatives in the past.

LaMarche, whose group has emphasized the employment opportunities that the project would bring to job-hungry Oxford County, said she was buoyed by the poll results.

“The folks who have an issue morally I think now are really seeing that there is a moral issue to good jobs and good opportunities, and that’s exciting for us,” she said.

Dennis Bailey of Casinos No!, which is leading the opposition to Question 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot, said he didn’t place much credence in the poll results.

“I don’t place much stock in numbers that are paid for by Las Vegas,” he said. “I look more to independent polling.”

Critical Insights’ telephone poll of 300 people statewide was conducted Oct. 14-15 and claims a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent.

The results contrast with a Strategic Marketing Services poll taken Oct. 13-16 that showed 39.5 percent for or leaning in favor of the casino, 52 opposed or leaning against, and 8.5 percent undecided. That poll of 400 people took place Oct. 13-16 and claims a margin of error of 5 percent.

Accompanying LaMarche were leaders from the Oxford Hills region who urged support of the casino to give an economic boost to an area that has seen hundreds of manufacturing jobs disappear and whose young people are forced to look elsewhere to earn a living.

Steve McAllister, former town manager of Paris, said he hopes Mainers will allow Oxford County to seize the opportunity to create new jobs.

“Olympia Gaming will build casinos somewhere. Their intentions are clear. Why not let it be here,” he said.

Bailey acknowledged that the slumping economy is the biggest hurdle facing casino opponents.

“People are willing to sign a deal with the devil to bring jobs,” he said, while reiterating that a casino and its accompanying social costs are not in the best interests of the state.

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