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Tribes Propose Another Casino in Calais
03/01/2010   Reported By: Josie Huang

Maine's Indian tribes are making their third bid for a casino in less than a decade. Passamaquoddy Gov. William Nicholas says that his tribe and the Penobscot Nation want to ask voters in November to approve an Indian casino in Calais. The tribes would be competing with a group of investors called Black Bear Entertainment that is planning to have a question on the November ballot, asking voters to green light a casino for Oxford County.

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"We're not doing this to hurt the efforts of Oxford," Gov. Nicholas says. "We're doing this to be able to bring better to the people of Washington County and to the tribes, and address some of the issues of the state, and we're the original ones to go for gaming and we're going to continue until we succeed."

Black Bear Entertainment unintentionally paved the way for the tribes to seek a casino by collecting the 100,000 signatures necessary for a ballot question. State law allows the Legislature to create a measure to compete with a ballot question. So the tribes just need to get lawmakers to sponsor casino legislation that would serve as an alternative to Black Bear's plan.

If the plans don't succeed in the Legislature, as is expected, the casino proposals would go before voters. "The ballot would present the measures in such a way that they could vote for either the intiative or the competing measure or reject both," says Julie Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State.

The winner of the referendum would have to receive a majority of the vote. So that's 50 percent, plus 1 vote. If no one gets a majority, "The one that receives the most -- at least a third -- does go on the next statewide election for a vote by itself," Flynn says.

But Black Bear spokesman Peter Martin predicts that neither casino proposal will make it that far. "If any competing measure comes out against Oxford County, generally what the public will do is they'll split the vote and they'll be handing this victory to anybody on the 'no' side."

Martin says that the fair thing to do is for the tribes to quote "pay your dues" and collect their own signatures to get a question on the ballot. He adds that Black Bear has been willing to share any success it has with its proposal with the tribes. "We send about four percent to both tribes to be split between them -- if we hit our numbers, about $2 million to each tribe a year," he says.

"It's not about the money," Nicholas says. "It's our right to be able to do what we're doing." Nicholas says that the tribes have been concerned about racism since voters statewide defeated a southern Maine casino plan in 2003, and a proposed Washington County casino in 2007, but approved gambling.

"The people of the state need to look at this as any other economic development project," Nicholas says. "And if one gets shot down over the other, considering the tribes have been the original ones that have moved forward with gaming and we still have nothing, then we've got to look at what's reality and whether we're being treated as an equal and being treated fair."

Anti-casino group Casinos No! says it does not want to see either proposal on the November ballot, and would plan to fight each one if it came to that.


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