Troubled Maine Casino Campaign Hires Firm Behind Successful 'Brexit' Effort

Aug 17, 2017

The controversial ballot campaign hoping to convince voters to approve a casino in York County has hired the same Washington D.C. consulting firm that helped convince British voters to withdraw from the European Union last year.

The commissioning of the Goddard Gunster firm is the latest evidence that the campaign, ensnared in an investigation by the Maine Ethics Commission, is planning to spare neither expense nor expertise to persuade voters to approve a third gambling operation in Maine.

A new political action committee that formed last month is expected to serve as the campaign apparatus for a casino referendum that has already spent over $4 million just to get on the ballot.

The campaign has been dogged by allegations that it hid its funding sources for over a year, and also because, if approved by voters, the casino could only be licensed to Shawn Scott - a gambling developer with a checkered past.

But the new Progress for Maine PAC has also paid over $80,000 to Goddard Gunster, a D.C. based consultant that boasts winning track record in referendum campaigns, including the so-called Brexit campaign.

Goddard Gunster received a lot of credit for the success of the campaign to convince British voters to leave the European Union, which some believe may also have foreshadowed the election of Donald Trump.

The firm's CEO, Gerry Gunster, talked about the similarities between Brexit and Trump's victory with the BBC in November.

"People thought, 60 percent of them, that the country was heading in the wrong direction. In the United States that number was right about the same. That's the same number in two different countries that change is going to happen. And it did," Gunster said.

Whether Gerry Gunster will be as involved in the Maine campaign as he was in Brexit is unclear, as is the involvement of the firm that claims a 90 percent success rate in referendum campaigns - including a 2012 victory in which it aligned with the beverage industry to beat back Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on large soda containers.

So far the firm has been paid primarily for social media and website development services - key components in a modern campaign.

The firm also has a Maine connection. One of its partners, Dwayne Bickford, is the former executive director for the Maine Republican Party.

To this point, the casino campaign has been mired in negative news coverage over its unconventional tactics and an ongoing probe by the Maine Ethics Commission into the sources of its finances, which currently point to domestic and offshore investment firms.

The campaign is fighting the investigation, including the commission's subpoena for the bank records of Lisa Scott. Lisa Scott is the sister of gambling impresario Shawn Scott, who first brought gambling to Maine in 2003 with the racino in Bangor.

There's currently no organized opposition to the campaign.

But that's about to change.

While unprepared to talk on the record, an attorney hired by Churchill Downs says it will soon launch its bid to oppose Scott's ballot campaign - Question 1 on the November ballot.

Opposition is also expected from the Christian Civic League of Maine and Penn National Gaming - the Vegas gambling outfit that now runs the Bangor racino and slots operation - the same operation that Shawn Scott convinced voters to approve more than a decade ago.