Maine Governor Vetoes Harness Racino Vote

Maine Gov. John Baldacci, as promised last June, vetoed a Washington County racino bill Friday.

The measure had envisioned a statewide ratification vote last fall.

"Adjournment of the first (special) session prohibited my taking action on the bill, but the Constitution allows me to take that action now," Baldacci wrote to lawmakers. "Thus, even though the act's proposed November election date has come and gone, I am returning this bill without my signature or approval and urge that you sustain my veto."

The Legislature's second regular session opened Wednesday. Lawmakers had no floor session Friday.

Proponents of an Indian-operated racetrack casino, who say they have not given up, twice won legislative backing last year.

But Baldacci vetoed a bill that did not include a referendum provision on June 9. The House of Representatives sustained the veto. Then, on June 23 after the Legislature adjourned, he vowed to veto the second measure, which called for a statewide referendum.

Baldacci had linked acceptance of the referendum measure to its supporters' attainment of super majorities in the Legislature. The House enactment vote was 97-48 but the Senate's enactment vote was just short of the two-thirds requirement, 21-11.

Much of the voting on the racino legislation highlighted geographic influences, blurring party lines.

Tribal leaders submitted an application with state election officials on July 11, aiming to put the question out to voters in November 2006. A proposed ballot question -- "Do you want to allow a Maine tribe to run a harness racing track with slot machines and high-stakes beano games in Washington County?" -- was authorized for circulation on petitions in August.

The racino project is designed to include an all-weather harness racing track, as many as 1,500 slots and possibly a high stakes bingo hall and hotel and other facilities.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe would run the horse track, and its proceeds would be distributed to Maine Indian tribes, county development programs, and funds benefiting the harness racing industry and college scholarships.

State voters approved a proposal for racinos to be developed at existing harness racing tracks in 2003.

Penn National Gaming's slot machine parlor opened in a converted restaurant in Bangor in November. A larger complex is scheduled to replace the temporary Hollywood Slots facility, the first of its kind in Maine, in 2007.