State Senate vote creates uncertainty for Scarborough Downs

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Financial backers ‘assessing all aspects’ of Biddeford racino

SCARBOROUGH — A proposal that would allow Scarborough Downs to move to Biddeford and build a racino failed Tuesday in the state Senate, leaving questions about the future of the harness racing track.

The Senate voted 19-15 against the measure, which would have amended state law to allow the racino in Biddeford, something nearly 60 percent of the city’s voters approved last November.

Scarborough voters rejected similar measures twice, in 2003 and again in 2008.

The proposal, which would also allow an Indian-run casino in Washington County, will now be decided by a statewide referendum in November.

“It’s a very, very sad day when they say no to jobs,” Biddeford Mayor Joanne Twomey said of the Senate vote. The House of Representatives approved the measure June 10, 86-49.

Racino supporters estimated the project would create 800 temporary construction jobs and 500 full-time jobs in York County.

“In this economy, this is all we have,” Twomey said. “Eight years ago, I would have been against this. But sitting in this chair, listening to people come in, people with degrees, trying to get jobs, who would sweep the floor to support their family … these people needs jobs and I’m going to fight for them.”

The racino and hotel complex, called Biddeford Downs Racino, is proposed for city-owned land west of the Maine Turnpike off Andrews Road in Biddeford. The complex’s value has been estimated at $120 million.

It would be owned and run by Scarborough Downs and by Ocean Properties, which owns several high-end hotels in the state, including the Samoset Resort in Rockland.

However, Tuesday’s vote raised questions about whether the financial backers will continue to stand behind a project that relies on a referendum vote for approval.

“Right now, what they’re doing is stepping back and assessing all aspects of the project,” said Crystal Canney, spokeswoman for Scarborough Downs and Ocean Properties. “They’re focused on what the next steps are for the Biddeford racino.”

The race track put 400 acres of land up for sale in Scarborough last fall, asking between $50,000 and $75,000 per buildable acre. The property, near Maine Turnpike Exit 42 between Route 1, Haigis Parkway and Payne Road, has about 223 buildable acres. The remaining acreage is wetlands and other unbuildable land.

Sale of the property is not contingent on the race track’s potential move to Biddeford. If the racino is approved and the race track moves, the entire Scarborough property will likely be sold, too.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.