Maine Ethnics Commission Rejects York County Casino Request

York Count Casino Referendum Maine

Shawn Scott won a casino license in 2003, but sold the casino for $51 million when questions about his business associates cropped up.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices refused to postpone action against proponents of the York County casino referendum. Backers of the York County ballot issue wanted to postpone sanctions until after the election, which takes place on November 7. The petitioners also wanted to restrict public access to the petition’s funding.

Commissioners appeared to have lost patience with Progress for Maine, the political action committee now funding the November 7 ballot initiative.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics voted unanimously to reject the request, which was made in a closed-door executive session. The session was called to determine how much financial information would be made public about the ballot question’s financing.

Lisa Scott’s Ballot Issue

Lisa Scott, a Miami real estate developer, is at the center of the ballot issue’s finances. Lisa Scott also happens to be the sister of Shawn Scott, the casino developer behind passage of a 2003 casino bill. Shawn Scott bankrolled his sister, but regulators want to know who is bankrolling Shawn Scott.

The November 7 referendum would give Shawn Scott the exclusive right to apply for a Maine casino license. If awarded, Scott would have the right to build a casino in York County, though the exact location of the gaming venues has yet to be announced.

Shawn Scott: Casino Developer

Shawn Scott won the right to build a racetrack casino (racino) at Bangor’s racetrack, besause the racing venue was struggling at the time. As Maine officials investigated Shawn Scott’s businesses and business associates, he sold the Bangor venue to Penn National Gaming for $51 million. Penn National still operates the Bangor racino as Hollywood Casino and is a reputable business, but officials now wonder if it is a good idea to license Shawn Scott for another casino — or why he would be the sole option for the November 7 ballot initiative.

The York County casino license is thought to be worth $200 million. Thus, it is a reasonable investment for Lisa Scott to have paid $4.5 million to fund a 2-year effort to get the York County casino on the 2017 ballot. Off-year elections tend to have smaller turnout, so motivated voters have an undue influence on the vote.

Ballot Referendum Financing

Officials on the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics see Lisa Scott’s role as suspicious. She created four ballot question committees, including one in her own name, two in the names of businesses she owns, and one named Horseracing Jobs Fairness Committee. All four contributed to the York County ballot initiative, which appeared suspicious to officials.

After Lisa Scott began getting scrutiny, she withdrew from the ballot issue. Since then, another political action committee, Progress for Maine, was launched to replace the job Lisa Scott’s PACs once had. Progress for Maine paid $4.3 million to push the York County casinos on voters, but questions have surfaced about the funding for the PAC.

Progress for Maine’s Nebulous Funding

The Ethnics Commission found that a nebulous number of groups across the United States and around the globe paid for the $4.3 million in funding. One of the group’s addresses was described as “Asia”, and no background information on that company appears to exist.

Maine lawmakers say the York County casino question is a “case study” in how the ballot initiative process has been “hijacked” by special interests over the years. Maine has seen 5 casino referendums since 2003 and only 2 of them succeeded. Despite that fact, more casino proposals continue to be foisted upon the electorate — often in pleibiscite form, where “Yes” or “No” options are limited and only one beneficiary exists.

Officials have called for the ballot referendum system to be reformed. If that were to happen, it adds another level of urgency for Shawn Scott and his allies to get the York County casino approved in 2017, because no other opportunity for approval might happen. Meanwhile, Lisa Scott and Cheryl Timberlake, an Augusta-based consultant, asked for the information to be kept from the public and no actions to be taken against the Lisa Scott or Progress for Maine.

Jonathan Wayne Loses Patience

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, appears to have ran out of patience. Wayne, who recently lectured Progress for Maine’s lawyers on their seeming stonewall of information, said to the petitioners that the committee would do as it pleases.

Wayne told those present, “The commission may reach a decision on whether some of the parties were late in registering and filing campaign finance reports in 2016, or the commissioners may schedule a decision for another day.”

Maine state law allows fines up to the amount spent on campaign issue. In this case, the maximum fine for Lisa Scott or Progress for Maine would be $4.3 million, the amount spent by the PAC. In Maine campaign finance history, the largest fine ever was $60,000.