Fewer people are playing the ponies: Off-track and racetrack wagers in Maine were down again in 2013.

The figures were released Wednesday, the same day the Maine House gave initial approval to a new twist on Scarborough Downs’ effort to win a racino in the Legislature: It would have to build a hotel, an entertainment complex and a new track before it could turn on one slot machine.

Michael Sweeney, the track’s announcer, said Scarborough Downs was fine with those terms, as well as new language in LD 1111 that would peg the licensing fee at at least $50 million.

“It makes the case this is a more thought-out plan than some of the ones we’ve had in the past,” said Sweeney, making an indirect reference to Oxford Casino, which showed artists’ renderings of a four-season resort complex before voters approved it in a referendum two years ago.

Oxford has so far only built a gaming parlor and restaurant, though another company recently started construction of a hotel across the street.

Figures from the Maine State Harness Racing Commission presented to the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee by Executive Director Henry Jackson show both of Maine’s commercial racetracks, Scarborough Downs and Bangor Historic Track, operating at a loss last year.

According to the 2013 Annual Report on Use of Funds:

* Customers wagered $12.1 million on live and simulcast races at Scarborough, down from $14.2 million the year before. That track reported an operating loss of $119,269 for the year.

* Customers wagered $3.2 million on the same at Bangor, down from $3.7 million. That track reported an operating loss of $41,214.

* Wagers were down at all four licensed off-track betting parlors, most markedly at the Winners Circle in Lewiston, which dropped from $5 million in 2012 to $4.5 million in 2013.

Bangor had 55 days of live racing last year; Scarborough had 105.

The declines come against the backdrop of increased casino gaming in Maine. Players in 2013 gambled $677 million on slot machines at Oxford Casino in the Western Maine town of Oxford and $469 million on slot machines at Hollywood Casino in Bangor, according to numbers last month from the Maine Gambling Control Board.

The two casinos together paid more than $51 million in gaming taxes that were spread by statute to 19 groups including the Department of Education ($15.9 million), the Healthy Maine Fund ($4.3 million), the town of Oxford ($1.4 million) and the city of Bangor ($716,158).

The Legislature is weighing three proposals to further expand gambling in Maine: the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have asked for a casino in Houlton, the Passamaquoddy Tribe wants to operate slot machines in Washington County and Scarborough Downs is after a track-side racino, pending local approval.

The House voted 86-50 in favor of accepting the new, amended Scarborough Downs bill Wednesday and sent it to the Senate, likely for a vote next week. It would have to pass both bodies again and get past the governor’s desk, to be approved.

The new amendment, by state Rep. Don Marean, R-Hollis, would require a new, 5/8-mile racetrack (the current track is half a mile), a hotel with at least 100 rooms, a spa, pools, an entertainment venue and a licensing fee of at least $50 million to be studied and determined by the state.

Oxford and Hollywood casino each paid $225,000 in licensing fees, according to the gaming board, before being sold to new owners for millions of dollars.

The Legislature is working to wrap up this session on April 16, with only a month to go before deciding the fate of all three gaming bills.

“It’s going to be a battle, I’m sure,” Sweeney said. “We’re talking to all the people who make their living in the harness-racing industry and urging them to get in touch with their senators. We have some strong champions in the Senate and we’re hopeful we’re going to have the votes to carry it when the final tally is taken.”

If the track wins approval for its racino this spring, he said, Scarborough voters would likely be asked for local approval at the polls in November.

If that, too, passes, “then it would be off to the architects to design a facility,” Sweeney said. “I’m sure as quickly as we could hire the 800 or so construction workers we would need to get this project up and running, we’d be out there laying cement and raising steel.”

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