2011-02-20 / Front Page

Petition assures state vote on racino plan

By DINA MENDROS
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — The project to open a harness racing, slot machine, hotel and entertainment complex in Biddeford achieved a key goal Friday. Maine Secretary of State Charles Summers announced that enough valid signatures were submitted to his office to bring a bill before the Maine Legislature, seeking to allow two more racinos in the state.

The 75,672 petition signatures validated are more than the required 57,277 move the bill along.

If passed, this bill would change a state statute to allow for one racino with no specified location as well as a tribal racino in Washington County.

Although the bill doesn't specify the community where one of the racinos would be located, the owner of Scarborough Downs together with Ocean Properties, LLC of New Hampshire have been working to develop a racino in Biddeford, the so-called Biddeford Downs.

If the legislature doesn't approve the measure, it will appear on the Nov. 8 referendum election ballot.

One of the changes requested in the petition is to extend the time required for securing local referendum approval,  according to a press release from Biddeford Downs spokeswoman Crystal Canney.

Another seeks to change a rule specifying how far apart slot machine facilities must be from one another. Current statute requires that such facilities must be more than 100 miles from one another.

This 100-mile limit is pertinent because of the proposed Oxford County casino that was approved by voters in a statewide referendum in November. Depending on how the distance is measured, both the proposed Biddeford site and Hollywood Slots in Bangor may be within this limit.

Backers of the Oxford project asked the Gambling Control Board to clarify how those 100 miles are measured. They say their proposed site is more than 100 miles from Hollywood Slots, but others disagree.

The board took no action on this issue on Friday and said it wouldn't consider the matter until the developers came before them with a gaming license application, said Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.

The issue revolves around whether miles are measured “as the crow flies or in highway miles,” said McCausland.

Representatives of Black Bear Entertainment, the proponents of the Oxford casino project, say the proposed location for their casino is 125 miles from the Bangor facility using “ordinary roads of travel.”

But Scarborough Downs attorney Edward MacColl said the straight-line distance between the two is only 94 miles.

MacColl contends that laws around the country use straight miles as the default unless otherwise specified.

Black Bear spokesman Peter Martin countered that in Maine gaming statutes road miles are always used.

The backers of the Oxford casino have introduced a bill in the legislature to clarify the issue to allow their project to move forward.

MacColl said he had reached out to Black Bear Entertainment to work together on getting rid of the 100-mile limit but never heard back from them.

Martin questioned MacColl's motives for inserting himself in the issue. “If I was a Biddeford resident I would wonder what Scarborough Downs is saying,” said Martin. “Are they ready to abandon Biddeford?”

Locating in Biddeford is “our heart's desire,” said MacColl.

However, he said, if the law isn't changed to allow developing a racino in that city, Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry is willing to consider other locations in order to save harness racing in Maine.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 324 or dmendros@journaltribune.com.

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