BIDDEFORD — With five days to go before Election Day, proponents of the Biddeford Downs racino are denouncing what they describe as a misleading and deceptive flyer distributed by the opponents of Question 2.

Meanwhile, an anti-casino advocate is challenging the truthfulness of a new TV ad in support of Question 2.

At issue in both cases is how much racino revenue would be spent on education.

Question 2 would approve harness racetracks with slot machines in Biddeford and in Washington County.

Much of the battle is about the Biddeford racino because it is the only project that has a developer, Ocean Properties, which is bankrolling the Yes on 2 campaign. The opposition is being funded primarily by the original investors of the Oxford casino and to a lesser extent by Penn National, which operates the Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor.

The flier, paid for by the Friends of Oxford Casino, claims that the approval of Question 2 and also Question 3, a separate ballot measure that would allow a casino in Lewiston, would “put at risk” $25 million in funding for kindergarten-through-12th-grade education in Maine. The flier, which has been mailed to registered voters over the past two weeks, urges voters to “protect Maine schools” and reject both ballot questions.

Appearing at a news conference Thursday at the Yes on 2 campaign headquarters in Biddeford, the developers of Biddeford Downs said the flier was plain wrong.

Mark Walsh, vice president of Ocean Properties, which would build the $120 million Biddeford Downs project, said the opponents are confusing voters deliberately. He said operators of the Oxford casino and Hollywood Slots want to make sure that Biddeford Downs is never built so they can maintain a monopoly.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who serves on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said the Biddeford racino would “not cut a nickel” from K-12 education but in fact provide $3 million annually for college scholarships and a projected $32 million into the general fund.

“I know referendum campaigns can be misleading at time, but there is no excuse to be misleading,” he said at the news conference.

Meanwhile, an anti-casino advocate is challenging the truthfulness of a new TV ad in support of Question 2.

The ad features a teacher from Pittsfield who says Question 2 is “great for education” and would provide $30 million for “things like Maine schools.”

Dennis Bailey of Casinos No! said none of the racino money would be earmarked for K-12 education, although some would go toward college scholarships. Bailey calls the ad “completely false.”

The controversy highlights the different revenue distribution formulas for the Oxford casino and the Biddeford racino.

The first phase of the Oxford casino, which was narrowly approved by voters last year, is under construction. By law, K-12 funding would get the largest amount of funding from the portion of revenue distributed to the state, an estimated $25 million a year.

Taxes from the racino in Biddeford would go primarily to the harness racing industry, a prescription drug program for the elderly, college scholarships and the state’s General Fund.

Question 2 proponents say that the projected $32 million earmarked for the general fund could be spend on K-12 education.

Bailey said nothing in law would require that the money be spent that way.

“It might to education. It might go to building golf courses,” he said. “No one knows were the money will go.”

Mark Ferguson, a Poland convenience store manager who is director of Friends of Oxford Casino, said the Biddeford Downs developers are “out of touch” with Maine voters because they would distribute the largest share of revenue to the harness racing industry rather than to Maine schools.

“It’s kind of silly,” he said. “They want larger flower bouquets for the winning horses versus more money for our kids.”

Friends of Oxford Casino has received $281,457 to date from just two contributors: $200,250 from Black Bear Funding, a political action committee funded by the original investors of the Oxford casino; and $81,207 from Penobscot County for Table Games and Jobs, a political action committee funded by Penn National, which operates Hollywood Slots in Bangor.

Tom Bell — 791-6369

[email protected]


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