This story was originally published at 3:35 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.
While ethics officials in Augusta delved into the murky finances behind the campaign to permit a casino in York County on Tuesday, its lead supporter, developer Shawn Scott, was in Portland to announce he’d done a deal with organized labor for its construction.
But there’s still no guarantee that if voters support the measure, Scott would actually build the resort he is promising.
John Napolitano is president of the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council, with roughly 5,000 members, and he represents plumbers and pipe fitters in the state too. He says the union has signed what’s called a “project-labor agreement” with Scott, guaranteeing union hires and wage scales should the project materialize.
That’s a contrast, he says, with the developers of Maine’s first two casinos, in Bangor and Oxford, which the unions supported at the ballot box.
“People came to us that asked us to help get these things passed. We did and then they walked away, they wouldn’t sign an agreement. These guys were willing to sign the agreement,” Napolitano says.
The pro-casino forces say they will build a resort, event center and hotel, along with gambling facilities, with 2,700 construction jobs to fill. But the ballot item itself does not include any language requiring more than a gambling hall.
Still, Napolitano says he’s convinced that Scott would follow through. So is John Leavitt, regional business manager for the New England Council of Carpenters.
“We’re comfortable with these people, so yeah, we’re all in. It’s kind of late in the game though, I wish we’d started a month earlier,” he says.
The manager of the campaign against a York county casino, Roy Lenardson, was unfazed by the prospect of union support for the proposal. He noted that the Oxford Casino — now owned by Churchill Downs, which is bankrolling the opposition campaign — was built by the Maine-based Cianbro, which isn’t a union shop but is worker-owned.
Lenardson argues that while the Oxford area needed the construction and permanent jobs created by the casino there, York County does not.
“Saco, Biddeford, Old Orchard Beach, do they need another tourism thing? This is an area that actually uses the H-1B visa to import employees from all over the world to come work in that part of Maine. That’s not happening in Oxford County. That’s Oxford people, Androscoggin people working right there, so, big difference,” he says.
With only a week until the election, the campaigns’ efforts to get out the message via the airwaves may be complicated by the state’s widespread power outages, with hundreds of thousands of homes in the dark, including their televisions. Both campaigns say they have robust mailer efforts that should make up for that.