Biddeford voters take 1st step toward racino, Scarborough Downs move

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SCARBOROUGH — Voters in Biddeford approved a racino proposal Tuesday that could result in Scarborough Downs moving to the York County city.

While unofficial vote tallies showed the proposal passed 4,636 to 3,244, the project will still need a change in state law.

“We’re very excited the residents of Biddeford have decided to continue the conversation with (developer) Ocean Properties and Scarborough Downs,” Biddeford Racino spokeswoman Crystal Canney said.

The project is also complicated by the statewide Oxford casino referendum, which narrowly passed on Tuesday. The Oxford vote bars casinos within 100 miles, which would include Biddeford.

Scarborough Downs attorney Ed McCall said the racino initiative has been circulating a citizen petition seeking the required changes to state law, including: an increase from five to 25 miles in the distance a harness racing track could move, an extension of the deadline for local approval from December 2003 to 2013, and allowing a racino within 100 miles of an Oxford casino.

“If we need to do it with a citizens’ initiative, we will, but we would prefer to work with the Legislature,” McCall said.

He added that he is confident the law changes will go before the Legislature in the coming session.

The citizen initiative is attached to a proposed Indian-run casino in Washington County, which opponents say is to attempt to hide the Biddeford racino proposal behind sympathy for the plight of Indian tribes.

“It’s just another bride,” CasinosNO! spokesman Dennis Bailey said. “It’s really misleading.”

With casino proposals for Biddeford, Lewiston, and Oxford and Washington counties either approved or in development, Bailey said, the state needs to decide what it wants and what it doesn’t want.

“It’s a very divisive issue. Mainers are split right down the middle,” he said. “We’re going to get ripped off by a lot of slick operators if we’re not careful.”

The Biddeford proposal, a partnership between Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry and the Walsh family of Ocean Properties, would potentially include a 200-room hotel and racino on 85 acres of city-owned property.

Proponents of the racino have estimated the city of Biddeford would see an annual $5 million in racino revenue.

Scarborough voters turned down two referendums, in 2003 and 2008, that would have allowed the harness track to add a racino in town.

Approximately 400 acres of Scarborough Downs-owned land is currently up for sale in Scarborough.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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