LEWISTON —  Backers of a casino on the Bates Mill No. 5 land all came to the effort from different places.

Stavros Mendros, the organizer of the effort and public spokesman for Great Falls Recreation and Redevelopment LLC, said he’s been eyeing the site for a Lewiston casino for years — since before he was a Lewiston city councilor.

Peter Robinson, one of the three public partners in the effort, said he’s a recent recruit.

“I’ve never voted for gambling before, but when Stavros said what a great use it would be for that site, I really had to stop and think about it,” Robinson said. “All of my objections — the urban sprawl, developing a rural area — those weren’t  part of this. It actually sounded like a good idea.”

Mendros, Robinson, local anesthesiologist Dr. Ron Chicoine and two unnamed  investors have committed $400,000 to the effort to put a purchase agreement before Lewiston voters. The group is currently passing a petition seeking to put a sales option agreement for the Bates Mill No. 5 property on the June ballot.

If Lewiston voters agree, the group will pay the city $10,000 to
reserve the land. They plan on a November 2011 statewide vote to allow the
Lewiston casino, and Mendros said his group would begin collecting
signatures this spring to get that statewide vote on the ballot.

Mendros estimates the advertising campaign to promote the statewide ballot at another $2 million.

Mendros said he and Chicoine have been discussing the possibility of a Lewiston casino for a number of years. Mendros was a partner in a 2008 vote to get a casino built in Oxford. When that effort failed, Stavros began looking for ways to bring the casino to the Twin Cities.

“In my mind, Oxford has already had their chance, and now they want another bite at the apple, ” he said. He had tried to interest investors from a Dubai-based casino group before the global economy soured.

“So since then, we’ve been looking for local investors,” he said.

Mendros said the group is perfectly happy to keep the two remaining investors names out of the public — for now.

“They are passive investors, not actively involved in the campaign like Ron or Peter or me,” Mendros said. “They’re just  investing their money, and we will eventually announce their names. We just want to control the timeline.”

The names of the remaining investors are no big secret, he said.

“When you see who they are, everyone will realize there is no smoking gun here,” he said. The group has been approached by others asking to invest in their partnership.

“But that’s an internal discussion we’re having right now,” Mendros said.

Mendros said the four other members have committed to a $500,000 budget. Mendros, a professional signature collector and former state legislator, is providing his expertise.

“I have been assigned with the task of managing the LLC, and I have the responsibility of making sure the signature collection effort continues,” Mendros said.

So far, the group has handed in nearly 600 valid signatures from registered Lewiston voters. The effort needs 860 valid signatures, and the group has until Feb. 22 to finish.

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