SOUTH PORTLAND — With the dust barely settled after Scarborough residents narrowly rejected a racino in their town, a South Portland resident and police officer is working to attract the gaming facility to his city.
Kevin Battle, a 23-year member of the police force, has asked Mary Perry, the city’s legal assistant/secretary, to research what steps would be required to put a racino on the ballot.
“Right now it’s just an exploratory process,” Battle said Saturday.
But he said he has talked to several South Portland residents who would be willing to represent the community on a committee to attract Penn National Gaming’s participation.
“It would be big for the school system – a good chunk of change coming in for the schools,” Battle said. “South Portland would benefit.”
Battle said he is acting on his own and hasn’t been approached by representatives of Scarborough Downs or Penn National Gaming, which helped finance the campaign for a racino in Scarborough. He said he is motivated by a desire to help South Portland and Scarborough Downs, which supported him when he organized a Trucking for Kids Convoy in Scarborough.
“Every day, they bus people down to Connecticut (to gamble),” Battle said. “We could keep them in Maine.”
Battle said he’s eying the industrial area on the west side of the Maine Turnpike, near the Maine Mall – “in South Portland,” he said, “but not in the community.”
His concept does not include moving Scarborough Downs’ harness racing track to South Portland.
“The infrastructure (for a racino) is out there and it would be (added) revenue for the city,” Battle said.
Support from neither Downs’ owner Sharon Terry nor Penn National is assured.
Ed MacColl, Terry’s attorney, said last week that “Mrs. Terry’s stated preference has been for any gaming facility to be immediately at and part of the racetrack.”
MacColl said his personal view supports the close proximity of the racetrack to the gaming facility, too.
“We want to bring folks back to harness racing,” he said, adding that keeping the two businesses next to each other would allow one to subsidize the other.
But that debate could soon be moot. According to Eric Schippers, Penn National’s vice president of public relations, his company’s option to buy Scarborough Downs runs out at the end of 2008. Although the agreement could be extended, Schippers said, “given the outcome of Scarborough, we have to look at what opportunities might exist.”
“Massachusetts and New Hampshire are both factors and we’re weighing what we decide to do next in terms of the agreement,” he said. “It’s up to Penn National to decide where to invest our shareholder capital and we’ve not yet made the decision if it’s with Scarborough Downs (or with other states).”
Schippers said legislators in Massachusetts are looking at the possibility of adding gaming to their state as a way to avoid higher taxes. And in New Hampshire, officials are looking into the possibility of gaming expansions that could effectively force Maine out of consideration, he said.
The interest of those neighboring states “could bring competition along the southern Maine border,” Schippers said, “and that changes the dynamic of when we entered into the agreement with Scarborough Downs.”
But Schippers didn’t rule out the possibility of continuing the campaign for a racino in Maine.
“It’s still up in the air,” he said.