AUGUSTA – The Maine House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to sustain the governor’s veto of a bill that would have extended the timetable for the Passamaquoddy Tribe to buy land for a possible casino in Calais.
It was not clear what the 94-47 vote sustaining the veto would mean for the continuing discussion on legalized casino gambling in Maine in general and on a proposed tribal casino in Kittery in particular.
“I think [lawmakers] would much rather concentrate their efforts on a bigger [casino] bill and one that focuses on raising a lot of revenues for local education and higher education in this state,” said House Majority Leader Patrick Colwell, D-Hallowell.
Speaking with lawmakers before the veto vote, Penobscot Nation Rep. Donna Loring and Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Donald Soctomah told legislators who supported their Calais proposal that they did not expect them to fight to override the veto and that they did not plan to speak in favor of an override. Tribal representatives are not permitted to participate in House votes.
Neither of the tribal representatives wanted to discuss the implications the failed Calais proposal would have on a new proposition to construct a $400 million casino in Kittery.
“We think this veto is a separate issue and one that was not worth souring the atmosphere over [with a floor fight],” Soctomah said.
Many of the lawmakers who voted to override may have agreed with Rep. Edward Povich, D-Ellsworth, who told his seatmates that the bill was widely supported by the House and the Senate in earlier votes and should be upheld.
Rep. John Morrison, R-Baileyville, sponsored the Calais legislation. He expressed regret that the House did not mount a more spirited defense of the bill.
“Anyone who suggests that Maine is on the move has not been to Washington County in the past eight years,” Morrison said in a prepared statement. “Too many of our people are out of work and our traditional industries are under attack. I am deeply disappointed that the King administration has not done more to answer our calls for help and has actively opposed an initiative that would create jobs and opportunities in our region.”
But according to the tribes’ chief lobbyist, the perception of Gov. Angus King as irrevocably opposed to casino gaming in Maine may be overstated.
Tom Tureen, the attorney who represented the tribes in the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, met with King on Tuesday in what he described as an “interesting” exchange of opinions on the Kittery casino. King, who has threatened to veto any casino bill in the past, has opposed the plan because of concerns over possible increases in crime and corruption that could be associated with gambling. He also fears that poor Mainers would squander their salaries on games of chance while pursuing dreams of quick fortunes.
During a meeting Wednesday with members of the Bangor Daily News editorial board, Tureen confronted both criticisms head-on, claiming that if the tribes use the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., as a model, crime and corruption will be virtually nonexistent here as it is in that location.
As far as irresponsible gaming is concerned, Tureen said gambling resorts have evolved dramatically over the past 10 years and that the industry today is more closely linked to tourism than vice. Additionally, Tureen said he agreed with gubernatorial candidate David Flanagan, who said Maine should not become “a nanny state,” telling its residents what activities are morally right or wrong.
“There’s a reason for people who don’t like casinos to like this [Kittery casino proposal],” Tureen said. “There’s a reason to take advantage of this opportunity now. We are at the end of the line and if this comes to New Hampshire or Massachusetts first, it’s going to be harder for us to get it financed and build it up.”
Tureen said he expects a draft version of the Kittery casino bill could be released as soon as today.
Gross revenues from the casino are projected at $500 million annually in the legislation, which would permit 4,000 slot machines and numerous other gaming concessions on the premises.
Tureen said the tribes would receive $50 million each annually under the plan and that the state would collect more than $100 million a year in tax revenues for the state’s General Fund, the majority of which he would like to see earmarked for state education.
Tureen said 4,000 people would be paid an average of $25,000 a year plus benefits at the Kittery casino, which would be themed architecturally to resemble a 250,000-square foot Victorian-era resort.
“This place will be beautiful,” Tureen predicted.