There's yet another effort underway to bring a casino to York County. Supporters of the planned citizen initiative have a tough hurdle ahead of them. They'll have to gather more than 61,000 signatures in the next few weeks in order to get the measure on next fall's ballot.
And they may also have to explain why the ballot question is being written to benefit a single bidder for the casino license.
He's a veteran of many, many citizen initiative campaigns, but even Stavros Mendros says collecting a little more than 61,000 signatures in a little more than six weeks is a tall order. Still, the former Lewiston state representative and political consultant is hoping for the best.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to be able to do it -- I'm hoping we don't get too much snow, we don't have a whole lot of days left," said Mendros. "I'm feeling confident that we can get the job done."
Mendros is working for Horseracing Jobs Fairness, a ballot question committee that wants Maine voters to decide next year whether York County is ready to host the state's third casino. The legislation accompanying the citizen initiative contains language that restricts just who can apply for the casino license. In fact, it specifically says the license can only go to an entity that owned at least 51% of a commercial harness racing track in Penobscot County. And that entity only applies to a group headed by Shawn Scott, a controversial casino developer who got Maine into the gaming business after voters backed his Bangor racino proposal. Now known as Hollywood Casino, Scott sold his share in the venture in 2003 for more than $50 million. Successive efforts since then to establish a southern Maine casino have failed at the state or local levels, the most recent rejection taking place four years ago. Mendros says attitudes have changes since then.
"The campaign last time was too much too soon, there was three on the ballot," Mendros said. "You know the thought of just one in another region of the state is very popular. They don't like the monopoly going on with the casinos that exist. I think now that people have seen the growth in the two areas, the two communities that have it -- they think that York County could certainly use a boost like that and most of York County's business is going to come from out of state anyway."
But before Maine voters can weigh in on the proposal, Mendros and his cadre of paid signature gathers must get the requisite number of signers into state elections officials by February 1st. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap stopped short of saying the signature gathering effort for 2016 is probably doomed.
"Well, I never try to propose that anything's impossible but it would certainly be unprecedented if they were able to get enough signatures this next year given that they need 61,123 signatures verified by the town clerks and registrars -- and that's pursuant to the constitution," Dunlap said.
Efforts to reach the Scott or organization for comment were unsuccessful. A recent Boston Globe report on efforts to establish a slots parlor near Suffolk Downs linked Scott as one of the project's likely financial investors. The paper said Scott's financial net worth was estimated at more than $100 million dollars. The Globe report also stated that while Scott has no criminal record, he was denied or failed to obtain gambling licenses in five states where regulators found evidence of financial mismanagement, irregular accounting practices, and hidden partnerships.