May 24, 2019
GAMBLING

Saco, Westbrook voting on racino Election officials predict heavy turnout

PORTLAND – An aggressive campaign to put slot machines at a southern Maine racetrack will be decided Tuesday when Saco and Westbrook voters head to the polls.

Campaign leaders and election officials were predicting a heavy turnout in both cities. In Saco, residents Monday formed a line for absentee ballots that at times was 15 to 20 people deep.

City Clerk Lucette Pellerin said her office had received about 1,000 absentee ballots for the election since early December.

“We’ve seen close to 700 before, but nothing like this,” she said.

Mainers in November approved a statewide referendum allowing slot machines to be installed at the Bangor Raceway and Scarborough Downs if the host communities approved. Bangor voters approved of a racino last June, but Scarborough voters rejected a racino in their town.

The law allows Scarborough Downs to locate a racino within five miles of its current location, as long as local residents approve the measure by the end of the year.

Saco and Westbrook officials agreed to put the question to voters, and on Tuesday voters in Saco and Westbrook are deciding whether to welcome the track and machines.

Scarborough Downs and its business partner, Penn National Gaming of Pennsylvania, have waged a campaign to convince voters to support the referendums.

Racino supporters Monday held a news conference and get-out-the-vote rally on a site along Route 1 where Scarborough Downs has secured an option to buy land where it could build a new track if the referendum passes.

In Westbrook, racino supporters announced the endorsement of Sysco Food Services of Northern New England, a major employer in the area.

Meanwhile, York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence said Monday that a racino would result in more drunken driving, prostitution, embezzlement crimes and other social problems. Racino supporters refute those assertions.

“The crime, congestion and sprawl that will result from this proposal overshadow any arguments in favor of the racino,” Lawrence said.

Residents running errands on Main Street in Westbrook and Main Street in Saco said they were ready to vote. If either community gives its approval, a second vote will take place on zoning changes and financial contributions.

Track officials estimate a track with 1,500 slot machines could generate $125 million in annual revenue. Penn National Gaming is teaming up with Scarborough Downs to relocate the racetrack.

Officials estimate a revenue-sharing agreement could bring Westbrook $3.75 million annually. Saco officials want $125,000 a month, or 3 percent of the slot machine revenue, whichever is more.

Scarborough Downs has not said where it would locate in Westbrook if approved. The track has approached at least four property owners.

In Westbrook last week, campaign signs were stuck in knee-high snowbanks. Some urged residents to “Take the First Step. Vote Yes.” Others proclaimed: “Our City No Slots.”

Evelyn Suitter lives in Westbrook, and thinks the city has enough traffic problems without a racino attracting 4,000 vehicles daily.

“I think it’s going to be a lot more problems for our town in terms of traffic, and for families if someone’s hooked on gambling,” she said.

Other residents said people in Maine are already gambling. Anne Kenney lives in Westbrook, but travels at least three hours to gamble at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut.

“I don’t think it would hurt. They’re very strict down there in Connecticut, and if they run it right, I don’t think it would hurt,” she said.


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