The backers of a November ballot question asking voters to approve a casino for York County have unveiled a new campaign website and architectural renderings of what that casino might look like.

In a short statement Thursday through its Boston-based public relations firm, the political action committee Progress for Maine pointed reporters to its new website and shared drawings showing a lobster-themed building featuring a lighthouse labeled “the Vacationland Resort and Events Center.”

The public campaign is gearing up even as questions remain about its financial backers, who are being investigated by both the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee and the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which enforces the state’s campaign finance laws. Thursday’s campaign launch raised additional questions about the effort.

The proposal, if approved by voters statewide and by voters in the community that ultimately is chosen for the facility, would give exclusive rights to develop a casino to Shawn Scott or a company owned by him.

Scott is an international gambling entrepreneur who won voter approval to add slot machines to Bangor’s struggling horse track in 2003, bringing Maine its first casino. Scott then sold those rights to Penn National – which still operates what is now Bangor’s successful Hollywood Casino – for $51 million as regulators scrutinized his businesses and associates.

A license for a casino in York County is estimated to be worth as much as $150 million, officials say, and the ballot question going to voters this fall is written in a way that only Scott or one of his companies could apply for the first license.

Michael Sherry, a spokesman for Progress for Maine from the public relations firm O’Neill and Associates, said in an email that Shawn Scott and David Wilson, a partner in the company Atlantic & Pacific Realty Capital, would be the developers of the proposed casino and “are the primary backers of the campaign.”

In an email message, Sherry also said the PAC was not connected to American General Corp., although that company, which appears to be based in California, is listed on the PAC’s initial campaign finance report as a donor of thousands of dollars of in-kind contributions.

“American General Corporation is unrelated to Progress for Maine,” Sherry wrote. Sherry did not return a message after the PAC’s finance report was provided to him by the Press Herald.

The push for the casino has been fraught with controversy. An initial petition drive fell short in 2015 after the Secretary of State’s Office invalidated many of the signed petitions. The campaign was forced to collect additional signatures, and in 2016 it cleared the threshold for getting on the ballot.

Scott’s sister, Miami-based developer Lisa Scott, initially appeared as the financial backer of the signature-gathering effort. She provided funding to Horseracing Jobs Fairness, a ballot question committee that spent some $4.3 million on the signature drive. But she subsequently formed three additional ballot question committees in an attempt to detail the flow of money between her companies and personal account and Horseracing Jobs Fairness. Lisa Scott is facing a possible ethics commission fine that could equal the $4.3 million spent on the signature drive.

Lisa and Shawn Scott, or companies they operate or own, have since become the focus of an ethics commission investigation trying to determine who is bankrolling the campaign.

Only recently formed in support of the casino initiative, Progress for Maine appears to have about $330,500 in debt for consulting work, website design and other services that have been provided by a collection of high-profile firms including Goddard Gunster, a Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm that specializes in referendums and initiatives, and was widely credited with helping Brexit campaigners win their ballot measure in 2016 to pull the United Kingdom out of the European Union.

According to initial filings with the ethics commission, Progress for Maine has agreed to pay Goddard Gunster $95,000 for its work on the campaign.

On its new website, Progress for Maine also lists companies supporting the campaign, including a local pawn shop and a small chain of Chinese restaurants in Biddeford and Sanford. The website also first listed Edward Jones Financial as a backer, but a spokeswoman for the firm said the company was not backing the initiative. The website was later updated to list Sean Dumont with Edward Jones Investments as a backer. Others on the backers list include a local chimney sweep, a motel and a property management company.

State Rep. Louis Luchini, R-Ellsworth, the House chairman of the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has oversight of casino gambling in Maine, and the committee’s co-chairman Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, have opposed the ballot initiative.

“This new website is disingenuous and filled with empty promises really,” Luchini said. He said the new Progress for Maine PAC was just another layer of obfuscation in an already shadowy effort to make hundreds of millions of dollars through Maine’s ballot initiative process.

“The fact is, it’s still a casino that only one out-of-state company can get,” Luchini said. “This is just another way they are trying to disguise who’s behind the financing of this casino.” Luchini noted that a number of the companies involved appeared to be based offshore or in Asia.

He said the language of the ballot question law also does not require the construction of anything more than a casino and the suggestion that the development would be a resort-type facility with lodging and a concert or convention venue is misleading.

Sherry told Maine Public on Thursday that Old Orchard Beach was one town that casino proponents were considering, but didn’t specify a location and said other towns in York County may be considered as well.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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