Southern Maine Casino Measure Qualifies for Ballot

Jan 24, 2017

A secretive campaign that’s already spent over $3 million in an attempt to convince Maine voters to ratify a casino proposal in southern Maine has qualified for the November ballot.

The proposal would benefit a controversial international casino developer, and the effort has so far operated outside the norms of a traditional campaign.

The group behind the successful drive to legalize marijuana spent over $2.5 million last year. It put up yard signs, answered press inquiries and otherwise operated like a standard campaign. The same goes for backers of the four other ballot initiatives that voters acted.

But the Horseracing Jobs Fairness campaign has had a different M.O. Already it has spent $1 million more than the marijuana campaign, but only to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. It has yet to spend any money on the actual campaign.

Organizers also have not been responsive to press inquiries — and that includes requests for comments Monday.

“I think the whole process has been pretty shady from the start,” says state Rep. Louis Luchini, a Democrat from Ellsworth.

Luchini has been a critic of the proposal since it was launched two years ago. He has criticized the campaign’s aggressive, and ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to gather enough signatures for last fall’s ballot. And he’s concerned about the motives of the campaign, its secretive tactics and the fact that it would benefit the casino developer who first brought gambling to Maine 16 years ago.

That man is Shawn Scott, a Las Vegas resident with gambling operations all over the country. He was behind the campaign that eventually led to the operation now known as Hollywood Slots in Bangor. He sold his stake in that facility for a reported $51 million. And he also left amid questions by gambling regulators about his business partners and dealings in other states.

Scott has largely withdrawn from public view, but he surfaced last fall when his business partners were revealed to be bankrolling an unsuccessful gambling campaign in Massachusetts.

Scott’s role in the Maine ballot campaign is also murky, but his sister, Lisa Scott of Miami, has contributed $4 million to the effort so far. There was no mention of Shawn Scott in the campaign’s first-ever written statement issued Monday.

Now that Horseracing Jobs Fairness has qualified for the ballot, the Legislature has a chance to ratify the proposal. By tradition, it’s more likely to be passed along directly to the voters. But Luchini, who co-chairs the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, says lawmakers could hold a public hearing on the proposal.

“You know, the benefits of a public hearing would be to understand the thought process behind the bill, see who’s supporting it, who’s against it and really give the public a chance to weigh in,” he says.

Luchini says it’s too soon to say whether a hearing will happen. But if it does, it could be the first time that Horseracing Jobs Fairness discusses its campaign publicly.