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St. Lawrence County lawmakers support casino; push for sales tax hike

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CANTON - Convincing the state to develop a gambling casino in St. Lawrence County isn’t a sure bet, but the project received support Monday night from the majority of county legislators.

Over the objections of legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, the county Legislature voted 13 to 1 in favor of a resolution supporting a casino that would be jointly developed by public and private funding. Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, was absent.

In January, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announce plans to develop three casinos in upstate New York as a way to spur economic development and create jobs.

Mr. Acres argued that there are better ways to achieve those goals.

“I think we should focus more on positive economic development that is more in favor of families, creating a healthier environment rather than the sins and temptations of gambling,” he said.

According to his research, Mr. Acres said 70 percent of casino jobs are service oriented and pay minimum wage and between 3 to 5 percent of people who start as recreational gamblers progress to become compulsive gamblers.

Instead of drawing from large metropolitan areas, Mr. Acres said his research also shows that most casino customers will live within a 50-mile radius.

The Ogdensburg Bridge & Port Authority is being urged by St. Lawrence County officials to allocate 10.3 acres of its property for the proposed casino. The OBPA is developed, state-owned and sits at the base of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge. It also has a view of the St. Lawrence River and is within 300 miles of more than 11 million people including Ottawa and Montreal.

It’s also centrally located between the Thousand Islands Bridge in Alexandria Bay and the Massena International Bridge. More than 5 million vehicles cross the three bridges each year. It’s within a two-hour drive of Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain and within a one and half hour drive to Montreal. The cities of Toronto, Niagara Falls and Albany are about a four-hour drive.

Legislator Vernon “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said the county has already created two pamphlets for state officials that make a strong case for establishing a casino in St. Lawrence County, including the 1,000 jobs that could be created.

“It’s unique that it’s a public and private partnership,” Mr. Burns said. “I understand it’s a long shot, but I think we’re ahead of everyone else on this.”

In other news, the Legislature voted unanimously in support of a “home rule” state Assembly bill that would allow the county to increase its sales tax from 3 to 4 percent, bringing the county’s total sales tax to 8 percent.

The resolution requests the state Senate to approve a similar measure.

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