2011-05-07 / Front Page

Racino proposal to go to full legislature

From Staff Reports

AUGUSTA — The Biddeford Downs racino effort received a minor setback Friday as the Maine Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs delivered a divided report on LD 1203, a bill that proposes legislative approval of the Biddeford racino project and a racino in Calais.

Supporters of Biddeford Downs, however, are unfazed by the majority vote of “ought not to pass” from the committee. The bill will now go before the full legislature for consideration.

“We weren't surprised at all by the vote, we actually expected it,” said Crystal Canney, spokesperson for the Biddeford Downs developers, Ocean Properties. After speaking with House members, Canney said Friday she expects the racino to receive more support when the bill returns to the full legislature.

“It's not over yet,” said Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey, Friday. Twomey has been a vocal supporter of the racino project, which would bring the Scarborough Downs harness racing track to town, and incorporate it into a casino and hotel/entertainment complex. The proposed $120 facility would be located off Route 111 in Biddeford.

Biddeford voters approved the racino last November.

If the bill does fail in the

legislature, the racino issue will be decided by voters in a statewide referendum instead of by the legislature.

“We're very hopeful, we're not giving up,” said Twomey. “If I have to go town to town, I will.”

During her time serving as a state representative in the past, she said, she had seen many bills passed that originally got “ought not to pass” recommendations in committee.

“We would have preferred ”˜ought to pass,' but it still has a good chance,” she said.

Twomey cited a poll recently commissioned by Ocean Properties that showed 57 percent of Maine residents believe legislators should approve the racinos in Biddeford and Washington County, according to a prepared statement from Canney Communications.

Racino opponents, however, saw the committee's vote as a small victory.

“Lawmakers did the right thing,” said Chris O'Neil, a spokesperson for Mainers Against A Rotten Deal, in a statement issued Friday. MARD is an anti-racino group based in Biddeford.

“Maine voters have always decided the question of major expansions of gambling, and today those lawmakers stood up for Maine families and protected their right to vote,” the statement read.

O'Neil said he believes lobbying will “now become even more intense” as gambling entities seek to persuade the legislature to approve the casino and racino bills before them.

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