Question 1, Citizen Initiative: An Act To Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County
On November 7, Maine voters will be asked whether to allow a "certain company" to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County. If passed, a portion of the proceeds from this venture would fund specific programs including education programs, college scholarships, drug education, agriculture and more. The language of the citizen’s initiative is as follows:
Question 1: Citizen Initiative: An Act To Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County
Do you want to allow a certain company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to the specific programs described in the initiative?
The pro question 1 website of the PAC Progress for Maine enthusiastically endorses the passage of the measure. The website also includes an approximately 50-second video slideshow showcasing renderings of the proposed gaming facility that features a lobster theme and mixed-use space that the website suggests might be used for a variety of events and activities.
Progress for Maine endorses question 1 as follows:
“On Election Day, November 7, 2017, Maine residents will have an opportunity to vote Yes on Question 1, a measure that will allow for a new gaming and entertainment venue in York County. In addition to gaming, the new entertainment venue would also feature a convention center, which is designed for concerts, county fairs, farmer's markets, community events, and more. According to a new economic impact study, a new gaming and entertainment venue in York County will create 2,165 permanent job positions and 2,767 construction jobs. The study also projects that the gaming and entertainment venue will boost household earnings by $183.2 million and contribute $248.1 million in tax revenues over the first five years of operation. This will fund programs that support K-12 education, college scholarships, drug education, our veterans, Native American tribes, senior citizens, agriculture, and more — without raising taxes."
Shawn Scott, who is involved with firms including Capital Seven and Bridge Capital, is the developer behind the planned gaming facility. A plethora of companies connected to the project reportedly span the globe, forming a “web” that is “vast and complicated,” according to a Sept. 9 report in the Portland Press Herald.
Bridge Capital LLC is and “international investment banking firm specializing in high yield real estate secured lending, distressed debt acquisition and restructuring, equity and debt placement, and investment management services,” with headquarters in Saipan, which is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific.
Scott, who has been referred to as a “casino mogul” in innumerable online business and media reports, has been involved in the development of casinos and gaming-related ballot initiatives in Washington, D.C., as well as in states including Maine, Massachusetts, and Idaho. He was involved in the 2003 Maine initiative that allowed the addition of slot machines at specific facilities including the Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs.
Due to the language of question 1, Scott or a company owned by him would be the only party eligible to license the York County facility if the measure passes at the polls. Additionally, the legislation is subject to local approval and regulations if Maine voters approve the measure on Nov. 7.
It is not clear yet where the facility would be located in York County.
In the York County town of Kittery, where the town charter prohibits a casino in town, there has been discussion about the project at the municipal level.
According to an October 6 story in the Portland Press Herald, more than $1.5 million in PAC monies have been used in funding the campaign favoring the initiative, and it has acrued approximately $1 million in debt.
In 2003, Maine voters approved a measure to allow the addition of slot machines at certain commercial harness raceways in the state, per the referendum, the ability to obtain licensing was limited to the Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs. Scott owned a majority share of the Bangor Raceway, which he purchased in 2002 for $1.1 million. After the measure passed, Scott sold his share of that entity to Penn National for $51 million according to assorted news reports. The facility is now operated as Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway.
Slot machines were never installed in Scarborough because local voters rejected the necessary measures to move forward with them. In 2010 Maine voters approved the construction of a casino in Oxford County, in 2012 the casino opened to the public.
The York County project has come under significant scrutiny, and has been the subject of an ethics investigation. According to an October 13 article in the Bangor Daily News, the project received a great deal of attention for its initially flashy public relations campaign.
Initially, Shawn Scott’s sister Lisa, a Miami real estate developer, was a primary vehicle for funding the initiative according to an August 30 report in the Portland Press Herald. The same article states that Lisa Scott rescinded her involvement in the project at the end of August amid an investigation into the funding and reporting practices behind the measure by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, citing that the investigation into funding was distracting from the ways that the intended York County project would give back to the community financially.
Lisa Scott is listed as an officer of Horseracing Jobs Fairness, the ballot question committee that was formed in 2015 to bolster the multi-million dollar effort to obtain the signatures to get the citizens initiative on the ballot. The committee reportedly accepted large loans from multiple companies that Shawn Scott is involved with. According to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, Ms. Scott is still an officer on that committee.
Funding information was not immediately available for the opponents of question 1, the group has organized using the name "A Bad Deal for Maine." This month, they launched a website attacking “Shady Shawn” Scott’s history and ethical practices, wickedshady.com. The website is attributed to a Scarborough-based PAC, A Bad Deal for Maine.
The language of the initiative restricts the operator of the new casino to "an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County that conducted harness horse racing with pari-mutual wagering on more than 25 days in 2002."
According to the League of Women Voters’ voting handbook, the pros of of a vote in favor or question one include the potential for increased jobs, increased revenue for the state, and the promises that the measure will provide some funding to aforementioned programs. The same organization lists the cons of an up vote on question one as competition with existing casinos, increased strain on local police and emergency services resources, an increase in gambling addiction, and the fact that the opportunity to develop a casino is limited to a single company.
The measure would also increase the number of slot machines allowed in the state from 3,000 to 4,500. The measure would additionally exempt the York County facility from an existing law that requires gaming enterprises to be at least 100 miles apart.
A “yes” vote on question one supports the initiative to open a gaming facility with slot machines in York County, and allows the Maine Gambling Board to accept an application for the project to move forward.
A “no” vote opposes the initiative to allow the Maine Gambling Board to accept the application for licensing this facility.
Jenna Lookner be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org