Tension high in Biddeford as 8 p.m. approaches

BIDDEFORD, MAINE—Supporters and opponents of the gambling questions were anxiously awaiting the close of polls in this southern Maine city which may – or may not – be home to a future racino.

Voters across the state made their choices on two gambling-related referendum questions today. Question 2 would authorize a racino in both Biddeford and in Washington County. Question 3 would OK a casino in Lewiston.

“At this point, it’s time to stop the campaigning and let people cast the votes,” said Chris O’Neil, spokesman for Mainers Against a Rotten Deal, an anti-gambling group.

O’Neil said he visited a number of polling places around the state and, anecdotally, he’s gotten “a good vibe.”

The campaign thinks Penobscot County voters will vote against 2 and 3, he said, in order to protect Hollywood Slots, the state’s only racino. Lewiston/Auburn may show strong support for 3, but lukewarm support for 2, he suggested. They were bullish on Portland, O’Neil said. And, he said, he didn’t think Biddeford would be a decisive victory for Question 2 supporters.

Crystal Canney, spokesperson for the Yes on 2 campaign, said she thought the group’s message pounding home the need for the jobs that would be provided by new racino projects was resonating with voters.

“We’re hearing solid support from various parts of the state,” Canney said.

The campaign is looking for major support from Bangor, Lewiston and Biddeford, she said, adding that “rural Maine could play significantly in this.”

Indeed, many of Maine’s rural communities have the highest unemployment rates, where a jobs message would resonate. According to the Department of Labor, the statewide unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in September. It was higher in rural counties like Aroostook (8.4 percent), Franklin (8.7 percent), Oxford (8.8 percent), Piscataquis (9.1 percent) Somerset (9.3 percent) and Washington (9.3 percent).

Polls close at 8.

O’Neil suggested that if its a blow-out, one way or the other, organizers would know quickly. If it’s a tighter race, it will drag on into the night.