Maine Casino Effort Spent $8.4 Million to Lose, Receives Record $500K Fine from State Ethics Commission

Posted on: December 21, 2017, 05:00h. 

Last updated on: December 22, 2017, 08:39h.

Residents of Maine strongly rejected a casino question presented to voters last month, with less than 17 percent endorsing a measure that would’ve allowed one specific person to build a casino in York County.

Maine casino Shawn Scott
Shawn Scott, conceding after voters answered “no” to his Maine casino question in November. (Image: Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald)

Shawn Scott is notorious in Maine for successfully convincing voters in 2003 to allow his Bangor horse racetrack to incorporate a casino, only to quickly sell the gaming rights to Penn National for $51 million and skip town. He was back for another payday this year, but this time around, voters didn’t fall for his tricks.

Democratic Process

Through a political action committee called “Progress for Maine,” largely funded by Scott’s offshore businesses in the Cayman Islands, Horseracing Jobs Fairness spent $8.4 million, the entity sponsoring the York County question. But the measure won just 57,538 votes, compared to 286,847 against, meaning the campaign spent about $146 per favorable vote.

Question 1 asked voters whether they wanted to “allow a certain company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County.” But the fine print mandated that only “an entity that owned in 2003 at least 51 percent of an entity licensed to operate a commercial track in Penobscot County” would qualify for the license.

That left Shawn Scott as the only qualified potential applicant. On election night last month, Scott admitted, “This didn’t go our way.”

In Maine, citizens can initiate legislation through petitions. Once petitioners obtain the necessary validated signatures (61,000 in 2017), the issue goes before the State Legislature. Should the lawmaking body fail to enact what the petition sets out to accomplish, the proposition can be put before voters for legalization.

Buying Votes?

Opposition included controversial Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), who labeled Shawn Scott “Shady Shawn.” Oxford Casino owners Churchill Downs spent almost $700,000 persuading voters to reject the ballot question.

The funding of Scott’s Maine casino effort drew the attention of the state’s Ethics Commission, which said Horseracing Jobs Fairness failed to properly disclose who exactly was endowing the group.

Lisa Scott, a Miami realtor, initially claimed to be the primary benefactor, but it was later revealed that Shawn Scott and his offshore businesses were funneling the money to Lisa, who then donated to Horseracing Jobs Fairness.

That prompted the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to fine Lisa Scott and lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake a record $500,000 just days before the Nov. 8 election.

The $500,000 penalty placed against Lisa Scott and Timberlake was ten times more than the Ethics Commission’s previous record fine. Yesterday, the state agency unanimously upheld the decision.

That will clear the way for attorneys representing Scott and Timberlake to formally appeal the penalty in state court.