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Scarborough racino 'on the front burner' again? Race track conducts new phone survey of voters

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Scarborough racino 'on the front burner' again? Race track conducts new phone survey of voters

SCARBOROUGH — Residents may be wrong if they think last year's rejection of a racino referendum put the question to rest.

Less than a year after the proposal was defeated by only 225 votes, Pan Atlantic Strategic Marketing Services of Portland has again been hired by Scarborough Downs to conduct a phone survey of voters to determine community interest in a racino.

The marketing research group last polled Scarborough voters about a racino in 2007 through a random sampling of 400 residents over the period of a week, according to information provided at that time by the company's president, Patrick Murphy. Though Pan Atlantic on Thursday morning confirmed Murphy is
again in charge of the Scarborough Downs racino interest survey, he was out of the office and could not
be reached for comment.

The survey preceded Scarborough Village Partnership's push last year for voter approval of a racino that would be surrounded by a village center development. Backers claimed the project would bring the town millions of dollars of new revenue. The village partnership political action committee, driven by Scarborough Downs, was financially backed solely by Penn National Gaming, owners of Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

According to Gene Beaudoin, developer of the Cabela's store in town and the spokesman for the PAC, a similar survey conducted prior to Scarborough voters' rejection of a racino in 2005 was conducted by Strategic Marketing Services, which eventually merged with Pan Atlantic Consultants.

When Beaudoin was asked Thursday if he had any knowledge or involvement with a new racino plan or the new survey, he said he was "not aware of it."

"I have no knowledge of it; I haven't heard anything," he said. "It doesn't surprise me because I don't think the track has anywhere else to go."

The Scarborough Village Partnership PAC was fined by the state Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices
last winter in part for late filing of the its initial campaign finance report with Town Clerk Tody Justice. In a Nov. 26, 2008, letter to PAC Treasurer Kathryn Rolston, commission Executive Director Jonathan Wayne said Scarborough residents "did not receive timely disclosure of financial activity undertaken to influence an important issue in town affairs, (namely) allowing slot machines at the Scarborough Downs racetrack."

The PAC was closed out after the November election. Justice said Thursday morning that she has not received a new filing for a PAC in support of a Scarborough racino. She said she was not aware of the new survey and indicated that, because of that information, she would be getting in touch with Scarborough Downs attorney Ed MacColl about registering a PAC.

Nancy Jones, of Broadturn Road, was one resident surveyed by the marketing firm. She said she also participated in the company's survey two years ago.

Jones said she received her call on Saturday, Sept. 12, and decided to write down all the questions she was asked. She also confirmed with the interviewer that the survey was commissioned by Scarborough Downs.

Among other questions, Jones said she was asked if she would be more or less likely to vote for a racino if the town is guaranteed $8 million a year, with $40 million in future tax contributions. When Jones asked for clarification on the tax contributions, she said the surveyor told her she did not know what it meant.

She was also asked if she would be more or less likely to vote for a racino if the deal also included a regional sports complex for concerts and new sports teams.

Though Jones recalled being asked in 2007 if she knew the name Gene Beaudoin and if her impression of him was favorable, she said there was no question on this survey about Beaudoin or any specific person.

Jones said she was surprised by the new survey call.

"I thought we'd said our piece (by rejecting a racino in the last election) and that was it," she said. "I thought, 'wow,' this is on the front burner again.'"

Dennis Bailey, whose group CasinosNO! helped defeat last year's racino referendum in Scarborough, said Wednesday he is not surprised by the new survey.

"They're not giving up," Bailey said.

He added that, although horse owners are seeing bigger purses subsidized by profits from Hollywood Slots, the racino actually takes spectators away from betting on the ponies and watching harness racing events, and instead moves them into the gaming venue.

MacColl, the Scarborough Downs attorney, did not respond to questions. His assistant returned a phone call and referred inquiries to Susan Higgins, marketing director at Scarborough Downs, who was on vacation.

Downs owner Sharon Terry was out of the office and could not be reached.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.