Legislature to consider casino referendum

ELLSWORTH — The Legislature will consider a citizens’ referendum this session that would allow construction of a third gambling casino in Maine — this time in York County in southern Maine.

A citizens’ referendum allows an issue to be put directly on the ballot by collecting a requisite number of signatures.

A similar effort to establish a casino in York County failed last year when many of the signatures were rejected by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The sole contributor to the current petition campaign is Lisa Scott, sister of Shawn Scott, who was the first owner of what is now Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway in Bangor and who sold the rights for $51 million.

The state’s second casino in Oxford was developed by a small group of investors who quickly sold the rights for $160 million.

In both cases the state of Maine did not reap any financial rewards when the casinos were sold.

“It’s frustrating that someone can just buy the initiative process,” said Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth), House chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, which will consider the referendum.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the state, Lisa Scott contributed more than $4 million to the petition drive in 2016. The entity shepherding the petition drive is known as Horseracing Jobs Fairness.

Luchini said the current citizens’ referendum is written in such a way that only Shawn Scott would qualify to open a casino with up to 1,500 slot machines.

The prospective owner would have to have owned at least 51 percent of a commercial horse racing track with pari-mutual wagering in Penobscot County in 2003.

That requirement means that Shawn Scott, majority owner of Bangor Raceway in 2003, would be the only person eligible for a license.

The citizens’ referendum also would increase the number of slot machines permitted in the state from 3,000 to 4,500 and exempt casino from a law requiring that casinos be located at least 100 miles apart.

The 100-mile limit was intended to protect the interests of the casino in Oxford.

Luchini said the citizens’ referendum has to come before the Legislature, but the lawmaking body’s options are then limited.

“Our hands are pretty tied,” he said.

Luchini said the Legislature can decide to take no action and send the referendum as is to voters in November.

Another option is to approve the referendum as written, which means it would not need to go to voters.

The third option is for the Legislature to write a counterproposal, leaving voters to decide whether to approve the original referendum, one put forth by the Legislature or to reject both.

“Whenever you put up competing measures you have a three-way question and it gets messy,” Luchini said.

“If none of them get a majority of the votes, then you take the top two and have a runoff election within a brief period of time,” he said.

Luchini said opening a casino in Maine remains illegal, unless a measure such as the one proposed is approved by voters.

“A citizens’ initiative can come in and strike out all the law we put in place before,” he said.

The Boston Globe reported on Nov. 4, 2016, that Shawn Scott is part of an effort to open a second slot machine parlor in Massachusetts.

Reports filed with authorities in Massachusetts showed that the financing for a ballot measure there came from Bridge Capital, LLC, the Globe reported.

The Globe said that Bridge Capital is an offshore investment firm run by John Baldwin and Shawn Scott.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]