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Politics

Lawmakers Make Bipartisan Case for Overhaul of Maine Gaming Policy

AUGUSTA, Maine - A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is calling for an overhaul of gaming policy in Maine. They made their case at a press conference in Augusta this morning, as the Legislature is taking up a consultant's report that finds that Maine could support two additional casinos.

Maine's two existing casinos, in Bangor and Oxford, were both built after being approved by voters at the ballot box. For the past 11 years, state Sen. Linda Valentino fought as hard as she could to keep those casino's out of the state.

"For 11 years, I have probably been the enemy to most of the people in this room," Valentino said.

Yet there was the Saco Democrat, standing shoulder to shoulder at the press conference with representatives from a collection of groups that favor gaming. "So why am I here to today?" Valentino said. "I'm here today because I think we have all come behind the White Sands report."

That report, from consulting firm White Sands Gaming, was presented to the Legislature's Legal and Veteran's Affairs Committee last fall. It concludes that, in addition to having room for two more gambling facilities, any new proposed gaming operations in Maine should be put through a competitive bidding process.

A spokeswoman for Oxford Casino referred MPBN to parent company Churchill Downs Incorporated. Churchill declined to comment. But in an interview last fall with the Bangor Daily News, Jane Hoyt, the Oxford spokeswoman, said a new casino in southern Maine would hurt revenue, jobs and economic development at the Oxford facility and in the surrounding area.

But Rep. Don Marean, a Hollis Republican, supports expansion of gaming. "We want to see this move forward. This is an opportunity for Maine."

Marean bought a 60-acre farm on the Saco River in 1988, where he bred horses for many years. Marean also sits on the board of the Maine Harness Horsemen's Association.

"The impact of harness racing on development in southern Maine is unmeasured," Marean said. "With a southern Maine casino, with a new racetrack, we have no idea what it's going to do to benefit York County, Cumberland County, where farms are slowly disappearing, growing houses."

The Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will address the future of gaming in Maine when it takes up the White Sands report for a second time Friday.