Does Maine Governor Care More About Churchill Downs Than His Own State?

Written By Steve Ruddock on October 24, 2017 - Last Updated on January 31, 2023
Barbaro statue at Churchill Downs

[toc]A contentious fight is coming to a head as Mainers prepare to hit the ballot box on Nov. 7. At issue is a referendum question about whether or not to build a York County casino.

If passed, Question 1 would authorize a third casino in the state. The new property would join the state’s existing casinos, which are slot parlor racinos.

There is no location for the casino in York County as of yet. The York County location would be close to Portland, which is the state’s largest city.

The casino would also bring 2,000 permanent jobs. Supporters also say it would generate $45 million in annual tax revenue.

But not everyone is on board with the proposal.

The Governor weighs in

Maine Gov. Paul LePage calls the proposal “another case of big-money, out-of-state interests using Maine voters to get a sweet deal,” per the Portland Press Herald.

Meanwhile, supporters of the casino think LePage is projecting. Not to mention speaking for one of his benefactors, Churchill Downs. Progress for Maine issued a statement about LePage’s biases:

“Voters in Maine should not be surprised that Gov. LePage is opposed to a new gaming and entertainment venue given the Republican governor and the (Republican) political action committees have received tens-of-thousands of dollars from Kentucky-based Churchill Downs and its lobbying arm in Maine, Preti-Flaherty.”

Supporters lay out the case for the casino

Progress for Maine also framed the proposed casino as a way for Maine to keep up with its neighbors.

“Gov. LePage needs to think about Maine first and not his friends in Kentucky, because gaming is a competitive industry and Massachusetts is gearing up to capture as much revenue as possible from neighboring states,” the group wrote.

In an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, a pair of pro-casino legislators, Tom Saviello and Lance Harvell, made the fiscal case for the casino:

“If the lawmakers and citizens of Maine can agree on one thing, it’s that Maine can always use a little more revenue. They don’t necessarily agree on how to raise it, spend it or save it, but with the passage of a budget in July that can reasonably be called austere, everyone can agree that a little more money wouldn’t hurt.

“We are referring to Question 1, the ballot initiative that would create a gaming and entertainment venue in York County. It would be responsible for $248 million in revenue over the next five years, not to mention more than 5,000 jobs. And it will cost the taxpayers of Maine nothing more than the gas it takes to drive to the polls in November.”

Included in the revenue projections is:

  • $10 million earmarked for the state’s harness racing industry
  • $11 million for the Department of Education
  • $3 million in property tax relief
  • $1 million for drug prevention and addiction prevention

A messy campaign gets messier

Back in May, we detailed some of the perceived impropriety surrounding the Maine casino campaign.

At the time, the Maine Public reported:

“To this point, the casino campaign has been mired in negative news coverage over its unconventional tactics and an ongoing probe by the Maine Ethics Commission into the sources of its finances, which currently point to domestic and offshore investment firms.”

And we didn’t even delve into the accusation that the initial petition contained several paid signatures either.

Fast forward two months, and the situation is even more sordid.

Most recently, multiple campaign backers and supporters declined invitations from the legislature to give testimony. According to the Press Herald, of the nine letters sent by the Government Oversight Committee, only three got a response.

“The whole purpose of this effort is to see who is really behind this (campaign) and see who is behind the millions of dollars already being spent, and to cast some light on a process that frankly seems a little fishy,” Committee co-chairman Sen. Roger Katz said.

Photo by Kelly vanDellen /

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker media, contributing to offline and online publications centered on the regulated US online gambling industry. These include,, as well as USA Today. Steve is based in Massachusetts and is also a poker player.

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