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St. Lawrence County officials favor Ogdensburg site for casino

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County officials will urge the Ogdensburg Bridge & Port Authority to rally around use of the 10-acre parcel that is home to its administrative building as the site for a proposed casino.

The OBPA board will consider the idea when it meets Feb. 13. It is one of the proposals advanced by OBPA consultant Fisher Associates for the 10.3-acre property.

“We thought it would be ideal,” Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb, told members of the county’s Economic Enhancement Committee Monday. Mr. Morrill is also the OBPA’s deputy executive director.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed three non-Indian casinos for upstate but has not identified specific sites. The Buffalo News reported Sunday that Gov. Cuomo wants a casino in downtown Niagara Falls.

That could break the impasse between the state and the Senecas over whether an exclusivity clause in the tribe’s gaming compact was violated, resulting in more than $500 million in withheld payments to the state, or it could introduce competition.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which operates the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg, has also withheld revenue-sharing funds from the state, claiming the exclusivity of its compact, which covers seven counties, is violated by a unlicensed casino operated by Mohawks of the Warrior Society near Plattsburgh.

St. Lawrence is eager for a casino if the state wants to locate one in the county, said Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, the chairman of the committee, which is also working with the county Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Development Agency on the idea.

“I think we made the right move in coming out early,” he said. “Now we’d like to get one location we can all get behind and support.”

The OBPA parcel is developed, is state-owned, sits at the base of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, has a view of the St. Lawrence River, is at the center of three bridges that lead to Canada, is within 300 miles of over 11 million people, and saddles both the Thousand Islands and the Adirondacks.

It would also be the third casino within a 100 mile path along the St. Lawrence, including the Thousand Islands Charity Casino in Gananoque and the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino. There are also casinos in Hull and Gatineau, Quebec, just across the river from Ottawa.

Having other casinos in the vicinity of Ogdensburg should not be a deterrent, said Mark J. Bellardini, a committee member.

“People jump from casino to casino,” he said.

The OBPA could move its office to one of its vacant buildings, Mr. Morrill said.

One of the main criteria in siting a casino is whether it can draw people, IDA Executive Director Patrick J. Kelly said.

“Where better than a border location?” he said.

Property at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center was also suggested, but bypassed because of multiple issues that could take time to resolve. Committee members unanimously endorsed the OBPA site.

“This land is really an under-used public asset,” Mr. Morrill said.

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