01/13/2004 12:00AM

Shrewd promoter bags cash


TUCSON, Ariz. - Promoter Shawn Scott has come and gone again, this time in Maine, leaving without a racetrack, as he did in New Mexico and Louisiana and is doing in New York, but not without a satchel full of cash.

Whether he heads to haunts in Hawaii or Las Vegas or the Virgin Islands, he leaves behind the virginal harness horsemen of Maine, who clasped him to their breasts because they had no other suitor. Now, at the end of their romance with Scott, they wind up with a strong and handsome paramour in Penn National Gaming, and a dowry of a purse-boosting racino.

Where Scott travels, he leaves a mark, like the "Z" of Zorro. In less than a year he turned Maine inside out, changing its racing landscape, leaving tumultuous town elections in his wake, and giving one of the state's two parimutuel tracks a racino and the other one nothing.

Penn National not only buys Bangor Raceway from Scott, but also gets Vernon Downs in central New York, which Scott bought cheaply but is giving up after losing his New York license. Vernon also will have a profitable racino shortly, but this bizarre tale is about Bangor, a tiny track handling less than $30,000 a program. Scott helped draft a racino law and got it passed in Maine, got the city of Bangor to approve having a racino there, bought the track, and then, after voters in the state turned down Indian casinos but approved track racinos, he helped make sure the state's second track didn't get one.

Originally, there were to have been two racinos - little Scarborough Downs was to get the second - and Scott also wanted a piece of that action. But Sharon Terry, who runs that track, spurned Scott's advances as a racing partner, losing his promotional support and gaining his enmity. After Scott turned against her in print and on the air, the town of Scarborough decided it didn't want a racino at her track.

The way the law was crafted, Scarborough then had two choices: It could stay where it was, struggling without slots, or find another town within five miles of its location that would let it build a racino, and get that town's approval by Dec. 31, 2003. Only two towns fit that restrictive requirement - Saco and Westbrook - and both, as the year ended, decisively turned down Scarborough's bids to relocate at those places.

That left Scott as the state's only racino operator, if he could get a license. That was no odds-on cinch, because he and his chief lieutenant both recently lost their licenses in New York on grounds of character.

The Maine racing commission began a hearing. Sharon Terry, desperate, found a new partner in Penn National Gaming. Peter Carlino, Penn National's owner, showed up personally to lend his persuasive skills to the town meetings in Saco and Westbrook. He campaigned eloquently for Scarborough to be allowed to build there, to no avail.

Scott, facing an uncertain decision from the racing commission and a new and far less desirable racino law cooking in the Legislature, cut a deal with Penn National, selling it Bangor and his controlling interest in Vernon Downs. It was no Delta Downs deal, the track he bought for $10 million with borrowed Korean money and sold to Boyd Gaming two years later for $130 million - but it wasn't chump change, either. The Portland Press Herald mentioned $30 million as the price.

Scott's original racino deal, hand drawn, called for a $1,000 license fee and 75 percent of the racino revenue to him. Gov. John Baldacci told the Legislature he didn't like that arrangement, and it is likely that a new license fee will be $200,000, and possibly a lower cut as the operator's share. It still won't be a bad deal for Penn National, with a racino in Bangor and a far bigger racino at Vernon Downs, located between Utica and Syracuse in central New York.

Another promoter who ventured to New England a few years back, George III of the motherland, left losing a war and a country.

Scott leaves losing a battle but winning a bag of Penn National dollars.

Shrewd planning for unexpected contingencies can pay off, for monarchs and manipulators.