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Scarborough Downs lawyer: No 'current plan' for casino gambling

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Scarborough Downs lawyer: No 'current plan' for casino gambling

SCARBOROUGH — Town Councilors will be asked Aug. 21 to consider an ordinance amendment that would simplify any future casino gambling referendum.

The proposal would amend the pending Crossroads Planned Development District ordinance, which creates a 450-acre mixed-use zone around Scarborough Downs.

The amendment will allow casino gambling in the new zone, if voters approve gambling in a future referendum.

Ed MacColl, the lawyer representing Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry, on Wednesday said there are no plans for a renewed effort to expand gambling in the proposed district.

"We do not have a current plan to ask people of Scarborough to reconsider this," MacColl said. "(But) if there is ever a chance to have (casino) gaming at the Downs, that would be the best way to do it,” he said about making the gambling question a separate yes-or-no vote.

As written now, the ordinance creating the district for mixed-use development would allow gambling only in its current, parimutuel form at the 63-year-old race track. Efforts to expand gambling at the track were rejected by voters in 2003 and 2008. 

Councilors approved the Crossroads ordinance on a May 15 first reading and forwarded it to the Planning Board for an advisory opinion. The Planning Board and Long Range Planning Committee have recommended passage.

A verbal amendment to eliminate the vote on any zoning change was requested by real estate broker Andrew Ingalls of CBRE Boulos at the July 17 Town Council meeting. Ingalls has handled the listing for sale of track lands and repeatedly said he considers casino gambling to be the integral piece of mixed-use development on the land between Payne Road and U.S. Route 1.

Councilors tabled the reading and vote to enact the ordinance July 17 because of the suggested amendment and to allow Town Planner Dan Bacon to provide input.

Expanding gambling will require local approval, and changes in state laws that prohibit another casino-style gambling operation within 100 miles of Oxford Casino.

MacColl said he supports expanded gambling to sustain the harness racing industry, and said Scarborough Downs is at a competitive disadvantage because of the Hollywood Casino near Bangor Raceway.

"Mrs. Terry will do whatever it takes to have the industry survive," he said.

That could also include a renewed effort to move the track to Biddeford, MacColl said. A proposal to move the track to land adjacent to the Maine Turnpike off Route 111 was widely supported in 2010 in Biddeford, but the necessary statewide approval failed in a 2011 referendum.

If the amendment and ordinance are passed by councilors next week, any petition drive for a Nov. 5 ballot question on gambling will have to be submitted quickly.

The Town Charter requires signatures of registered voters amounting to 25 percent of the total ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election. Town Clerk Tody Justice said she recommends any petition organizers gather at least 3,000 signatures as a hedge against some failing certification.

The council would have to have a petition by Sept. 18 to call for the public hearing needed before the election. Justice said last week she has not received any petition requests for a gambling referendum.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.