Maine House votes yes on Down East tribal slot machines 4-10-07

- The Maine House of Representatives voted 8260 Tuesday in favor of a bill to allow the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe to install slot machines at their proposed harness racing track in eastern Maine.

The bill now goes to the Senate and faces at least one more House vote. But even if it fails legislative passage, the initiated proposal is certain to go before Maine voters next November.

During a lengthy House debate Tuesday, supporters of the bill said the proposed destination resort featuring harness racing and slot machines would stimulate Washington County's beleaguered economy. Supporters contended that past promises to revive the county's economy have not been met by action.

Rep. Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy tribal delegate, said Washington County's economy suffered its latest setback just days earlier when Domtar Inc. announced plans to shut down the paper machine at its pulp and paper mill in Baileyville from April 16 until May 21, a move that will affect about 100 jobs.

``The House should not turn its back on Washington County,'' said Rep. Donna Finley, RSkowhegan.

But opponents said the bill, which was brought before the Legislature as a result of a successful voter petition drive, is badly flawed.

Rep. Janet Mills, DFarmington, said the bill lacks a local referendum provision and does not call for a business plan that would determine whether the racino is viable.

Lawmakers can either pass the bill exactly as it's proposed, or reject it, which sends it automatically to voters. Amending it would force lawmakers to send competing racino bills - the initiated version and an amended version - to voters, Mills said.

She and other opponents called on lawmakers to follow a longobserved practice of sending gambling bills to voters. Others based their opposition on their belief that gambling is bad public policy, and that the state Gambling Control board has voted in support of a moratorium on gaming.

The various scenarios are overshadowed by Gov. John Baldacci's threat to veto the bill, just as he has done with two previous Down East racino bills. A twothirds vote is needed to override a veto, and Tuesday's vote fell short of that.

In separate legislation, the Penobscot Nation is seeking approval to operate 400 slot machines during highstakes bingo games on their reservation on Indian Island, saying they need to compete with Bangor's Hollywood Slots.