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St. Lawrence County casino idea gains momentum

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CANTON — A casino has broad support across St. Lawrence County, members of an economic advisory committee reported Wednesday, so research into its economic impact will begin along with an eventual push for backing from service groups and municipalities.

“What are you hearing in your community?” Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, chairman of the county economic enhancement committee, asked of the dozen members who attended the meeting.

Popular opinion seems favorable, committee members said.

“Creating jobs,” committee member Mark J. Bellardini said. “Everybody thinks it’s a great idea. It’s a move forward.”

Mr. Bellardini’s remarks were echoed by others, who said residents see a casino as having positive ripple effects in sales of gasoline, food and tourism. Although some do not like gambling, residents already have a good idea of the reality of gaming because of the existence of Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, which is operated by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in Hogansburg.

“Wagering is here. That’s reality,” Gouverneur Mayor Ronald P. McDougall said. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

The proximity of Akwesasne Mohawk Casino — and even if Alexandria Bay was successful in hosting a proposed racino — could be beneficial as some gamblers like to frequent multiple establishments, committee members said.

Wade A. Davis, executive director of the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority, offered two parcels adjacent to the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge that might make for a good site. Others said a number of properties could work so long as they were close to one of the bridges that go to Canada.

The important thing is to form a unified front, committee members said.

As a next step, the group decided to work with the county Industrial Development Agency on economic data it developed as part of the push to save the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility in 2010 to build a package to convince the state Gaming Commission of the county’s value.

The group may also reach out to those versed in what a casino needs to form a game plan.

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