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Maine casino is sold for $160 million

OXFORD, Maine — Less than a year after it opened, Oxford Casino is being sold for about $160 million to Churchill Downs Inc., the Kentucky-based gambling company announced Friday.

The deal awaits approval by the Maine Gambling Control Board and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2013.

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Churchill Downs Chairman Robert Evans said the acquisition of Oxford continues its focus on investing capital in gambling friendly states and in newer properties.

Churchill Downs Inc. is a multistate, publicly traded company with racetracks including the site of the Kentucky Derby, casinos and online wagering.

‘‘The Oxford team of over 400 employees has done an exceptional job and we look forward to welcoming them into the Churchill Downs family,’’ Evans said in a statement.

Bob Bahre of Black Bear Realty, the casino’s developer, said operating casinos is not its core business, ‘‘and we thought that the time was right to look for a major gaming company that could take this property to the next level. We are confident that we have found such a group in Churchill Downs, and we look forward to welcoming them into the community.’’

Dennis Bailey of the consulting firm Savvy Inc., who opposed Oxford and other casino proposals to come up in Maine, said Friday’s announcement ‘‘wasn’t a real surprise.’’

Bailey said the casino was promoted as a local business, but the sale shows ‘‘it was never a local business.’’

Located in Oxford, a small town in the western part of the state about 45 minutes northwest of Portland, the casino opened in June and completed an expansion of its gambling floor last fall. It is one of two casinos in Maine, along with Hollywood Casino in Bangor.

With Hollywood only operating with slot machines at the time, Maine voters in November 2010 narrowly approved a referendum allowing Oxford, which would become the state’s first casino with table games. The measure passed by less than 1 percentage point, and a recount was conducted.

Casino opponents abandoned the recount after there was no appreciable change in the margin with more than 20 percent of the statewide vote tallied.

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