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Dawson suggests casino for former racetrack site

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BRASHER FALLS — Land that was once intended for a racetrack and entertainment complex could still be used to draw visitors to the north country if Brasher Town Supervisor M. James Dawson has his way.

And, he said, his idea could make it more feasible to extend the Massena International Airport runway to accommodate larger planes.

Mr. Dawson wants one of the casinos proposed by the state to be built on a 900-acre parcel in Brasher and Norfolk, he told Town Council members Wednesday.

The property, which was once intended to be a racetrack but got caught up in a Ponzi scheme, recently failed to sell at an auction arranged by the bankruptcy trustee for Agape World, the company that held the mortgage on the land.

The property was foreclosed on a complaint filed by Kenneth P. Silverman, the bankruptcy trustee of Agape World, which financed the $2.1 million mortgage for Northway Island Associates. The land is an asset of Agape World, whose owner, Nicholas Cosmos, pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud charges in 2010 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for stealing more than $125 million from thousands of investors over five years.

While the land remains in limbo, Mr. Dawson suggested that a casino would fit in perfectly as a way to attract visitors to the region, much as officials envisioned for the racetrack and entertainment complex.

As part of the state’s budget passed in April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed a gambling commission to plan an expansion of up to seven non-Indian casinos and a commission to evaluate tax breaks and map out a taxing strategy.

“If we can get the St. Lawrence County Legislature, Industrial Development Agency, RVRDA (St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency) and all the towns and villages in the county to make a concerted effort to go after one of Gov. Cuomo’s seven casino sites, that would go hand in glove with extending the airport. Having two casinos is better than one,” Mr. Dawson said.

Mr. Dawson has been a vocal proponent of extending the Massena runway from 5,600 feet to 6,500 feet to accommodate larger planes, which would allow the airport to compete with others such as Plattsburgh, Ottawa and Montreal.

Tourists flying into Massena would benefit the entire county, he has said, noting they would spend their money locally and contribute to the sales tax, which is divided among towns and villages in the county.

While it will take time to create a gambling commission and pass legislation for the casinos, Mr. Dawson said, now is the time to act.

“They’re probably going to build something on the northern tier,” he said. “It hasn’t happened yet. It will take a couple of years. But we have to start the groundwork.”

If it’s going to become a reality, Mr. Dawson said, it will require a concerted effort to persuade state officials to pick the region for a casino.

“I think the powers that be in St. Lawrence County haven’t really taken a look at the tourism aspect it could generate,” he said. “Because they have been geared toward industrialization, they don’t look the other way.”

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