Scarborough Downs bets on move to Biddeford

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SCARBOROUGH — After several racino initiatives were rejected by voters, Scarborough Downs is seeking to move to a York County community that may be more receptive to a racetrack and slot machines.

The Biddeford City Council voted Tuesday evening to ask voters in a November referendum if they want to bring a racino operated by Scarborough Downs to their city.

“Any time your relationship with your home town isn’t working, it’s disappointing, but we’re very excited about creating a new home for harness racing in Biddeford and generating revenue for the city,” said attorney Edward MacColl, who represents Scarborough Downs owner Sharon Terry.

Scarborough voters soundly rejected adding slot machines to the facility in 2003, and then narrowly rejected a similar proposal in 2008. The 2008 proposal, backed by Penn National Gaming, owner of Hollywood Slots in Bangor, would have created a “village center” development around the racino.

It failed by 225 votes. Since then, the harness racing track has been struggling to remain profitable during the recession.

“Harness racing as a sport, is dying,” said Dennis Bailey, who leads the CasinoNO! campaign against casino gambling in Maine. “What they’re trying to do is to open a casino.”

MacColl would not say whether Penn National Gaming would be involved in the proposed Biddeford project.

Scarborough Downs was approved for slot machines at the same time as the Bangor harness racing track, however, the approval was contingent upon approval from local voters.

Voters in Westbrook and Saco rejected racino initiatives in 2003.

“The voters have made up their minds over and over again,” Bailey said. “I think (Scarborough Downs) is wasting their time.”

If the harness racing facility were to move, MacColl said it was likely that the business would sell its 500 acres of property in Scarborough. According to the tax assessor’s office, Scarborough Downs currently pays just over $122,000 per year in real estate and personal property taxes to the town.

MacColl said the company is reviewing several sites in Biddeford and has not decided where it would build if voters pass the initiative. He said that unlike the Bangor harness track, the town would not own the race track and instead would have a contract that would provide approximately 4 percent of the “drop,” or gross income from wagers, to the town.

MacColl also said Scarborough Downs, which has been in Scarborough for 60 years, would consider changing its name if it moves to Biddeford.

“We want a true joint effort with Biddeford,” he said.

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

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