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Questions unanswered in debate
OXFORD -- A debate about the proposed Oxford casino aired repeated charges from casino opponents that members of Black Bear Entertainment (BBE), the casino's investment group, are not releasing important details to the public.
Moments after the debate's conclusion, casino opponent Dennis Bailey charged that casino investor Rob Lally and Oxford Hills Chamber head John Williams had been evasive.
"Most of the questions were for the 'yes' side, and I didn't feel like they answered any of them," he said.
Certainly, there were several questions posed by the media panel that were left unsatisfied, with details about the project's features, job composition, and even the location, currently unknown.
"If we can get through November 2, which is less than two weeks away we'll come back here and give all of the details on what we want to provide, and get all of the input from the local people," said Lally.
But the questions on the details are coming from voters who have not yet cast their vote.
"I've heard the number of 2,700 full and part time jobs," read one question, which a panelist chose from submitted community questions. "How many will be full time, and how many will be part time?"
"I dont know if I can answer that accurately, to tell you exactly how many full time and how many part time jobs," said Lally. "I think what I'd like to emphasize is that the ownership group is very committed to making sure that when we start to build this thing... that we're going to hire, whenever possible, local businesses, and hire Maine people to not only build this, but also in the actual operation of this."
"They don't have an answer to that question because we don't know what the business plan is," charged casino opponent Jeff Rosenblatt. "Nobody in his right mind as a conscientious investor would invest money in a project with the amount of information they've given us....They're asking us to invest the entire future of our community in their casino."
Asked if there was a provision that would give priority to hiring Oxford County residents, Lally said that BBE is "committed to making sure that we hire locally whenever possible."
One question from the local community asked Lally whether there would be onsite daycare for gamblers.
"You know, we're going to build a fantastic four season resort casino. We're going to have a lot of amenities," said Lally. He then went on to list the features of the proposed resort surrounding the casino, without returning to the issue of daycare.
"Did you get an answer to your question? Because I didn't hear it," said Bailey, who then claimed that casinos employ people to seek out children who have been left in cars in the parking lot while their caretakers gamble.
One question from the community asked "what is the minimum number of employees they will commit to hire in 2011?"
Lally referred to Gabe's study as the basis for employment predictions, although the study makes no predictions about hiring in 2011.
"We stand 100 percent behind his numbers," said Lally. "We're going to reach those numbers and those targets in five years."
Oxford Hills Chamber head John Williams, who debated on behalf of the casino, said that the character of the investor group inspires faith in their good intentions.
"Is there a possibility that with some of the issues surrounding a large resort, with casino, with slots and gaming tables, will there be an opportunity for there to be some issues?" he asked. "I don't think that there's any question that there will be. It's up to us, and it's up to the integrity of the investors... respected business people who have spent a good part of their lives creating jobs."
Rosenblatt acknowledged the good track record of the members of BBE.
"I know that the people behind this casino are some of the most prominent businesspeople in the state," said Rosenblatt. "I'm not happy to have to be here and question their judgment. They have done a lot to develop the Oxford Hills and a lot of good deeds in the community, but that record of good works doesn't make them infallible, and we don't think that they have done the right thing this time around."