Maine Ethics Commission Levies $500k Fine on Casino PACs

York County Casino Vote Maine

Proponents of the York County Casino spent $9 million, while opponents spent $700 thousand.

Only days before a statewide referendum vote on the York County Casino, a Maine state ethics commission levied a record $500,000 fine against the committees which were promoting the casino. The fine was levied against a total of four political action committees that lobbied to have the York County Casino placed on the November 7 ballot.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which oversees campaign finance disclosure laws, voted 4-1 to assess the fines. The commission said the PACs had failed to meet reporting deadlines, while also incorrectly reporting the contribution sources of the $4.5 million to fund the ballot initiative.

It is unknown how much of an effect the fines will have on Tuesday voting. Those supporting the York County Casino has asked for the fines to be assessed after the vote, fearing it would have a deleterious effect on the vote.

Several of the political action committees were founded by Lisa Scott, a Miami real estate developer. One of the committees, Horseracing Jobs Fairness, collected over 61,000 signatures on a petition to authorize the November 7 referendum for a third Maine casino, to be placed in York County.

Shawn Scott: Controversial Casino Developer

Lisa Scott also happens to be the sister of Shawn Scott, a Maine entrepreneur who is controversial in the state’s gambling industry. In 2003, Shawn Scott successfully won the right to build a casino in Bangor.

By the time the Bangor casino was approved, though, Mr. Scott’s business practices had come under scrutiny. Facing further probes, he sold the right to build the Bangor casino to an outside group for $51 million. The entire episode left bad feelings toward Shawn Scott. Thus, it caused a stir when it was learned that the referendum gave Shawn Scott the sole right to build a casino in York County.

$200 Million Casino Vote

The Portland Press Herald reported that the York County Casino is “estimated to be worth as much as $200 million“. When the Maine Ethics Commission questioned Cheryl Timberlake, the treasurer of the Horseracing Jobs Fairness committee, she said that the Shawn Scott was the primary source of funding for the casino referendum, though Lisa Scott’s name is on the paperwork.

Facing many questions, Lisa Scott resigned from her role in the referendum issue. A new set of committees were formed to spread a petition and push for a Nov. 7 referendum. Further investigation by state officials found that funding from the new groups came from a nebulous set of contacts, many of whom were foreign. One source of funding was based in Japan, while another was said to be headquartered in “Asia”.

Lisa Scott to Appeal Fine

After Friday’s announcement, Lisa Scott said she plans to appeal the fines in court. The maximum penalty could have been as much as $4.5 million, because the potential fine equals as much as the amount spent on the ballot issue in question.

The fine shattered the previous record by a factor of ten. The previous record fine by the Maine Ethics Commission was $50,250, which was levied against the National Organization for Marriage in 2014 for ethics violations in 2009. The National Organization for Marriage failed to register as a political action committee during the 2009 election cycle.

Oxford Casino and Hollywood Casino

The two existing casinos are Oxford Casino, which is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated, and Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway Bangor, which is owned by Penn National Gaming. Penn National Gaming was the group which bought Shawn Scott’s previous casino development. Though Penn National’s gaming venue has proven to be a solid business for Bangor, the way Shawn Scott handled his business in 2003 still rankles many people in Maine.

Ironically, the two biggest opponents of the York County Casino are Churchill Downs Incorporated and Penn National Gaming, which do not want a rival casino in the state. Though the two have spent money on the “No” proposition on November 7 ballot, they did not spend anywhere close to the amount that Shawn Scott, Lisa Scott, and their associates spent on the “Yes” proposition. Support contributions totaled $9,025,796.56, while opposition contributions were only $735,602 — less than 1/12th of what was spent to tout the York County Casino.