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Alex Bay racino not out of the running


OGDENSBURG - While hope for an Ogdensburg casino was crushed by Tuesday’s settlement with the Mohawks, Alexandria Bay might still be home to a racino.

The former owner of the Bonnie Castle Recreation Center, near Interstate 81, said the proposed racino — a harness racetrack with a casino — is not dead.

In the agreement reached between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, which will resume the 2010 halted payments from the council’s gaming operations in St. Lawrence County, the Mohawk’s were granted exclusivity to gaming in the eight-county upstate region.

However, according to Marc J. Fernandez, Baldwinsville, he and his father-in-law, Donald E. Cole, can continue pursuing their application for the proposed $140 million harness track and casino project that also included a hotel.

“We were never going for a full-fledged casino,” Mr. Fernandez said. “I actually put a license in for harness racing and video lottery, the same as Vernon Downs and the Finger Lakes racino.”

Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Cole since 2011 have been trying to obtain the eighth, and last remaining, harness-racing license available in New York from the state Gaming Commission.

Commission spokesman Lee Park said the constructs of the deal between the tribal council and the state allow for the pursuit of the application.

“He was told he could proceed with his application,” Mr. Park said. “This is per the constructs of the deal between the Mohawks and the governor’s office.”

Unlike the deal the state struck with the Oneida Nation on May 16, where no casinos would be built in the 10-county Central New York region, which includes Onondaga County, the Mohawk deal allows for the pursuit of the application for the license.

Along with the pursuit of the harness license, Mr. Fernandez said there is an application for video lottery terminals

“We’re certainly moving ahead on our project,” Mr. Fernandez said. “I think a lot of the other proposals out there are looking mainly for casino gambling, for black jack, poker, table games. We weren’t looking at those three years ago when we started this project. So it gives me hope.”

Hope, however, was extinguished for the future of the proposal for a casino on a 10.3-acre parcel of Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority land which houses the state agency’s Bridge Plaza administrative building.

The St. Lawrence County Economic Enhancement Committee agreed to withdraw their proposal for the OBPA casino during their meeting Wednesday night to show support for the governor’s agreement.

St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce is planning to withdraw its support of the proposal during its June 20 meeting.

“You put yourself out there, and while we didn’t get it this time, there might be another project out there,” said Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, chairman of the economic enhancement committee,

The cooperation the county received on the proposal demonstrated that efforts were being made to promote economic development in the north country, Mr. Burns said.

Chamber Executive Director Patricia L. McKeown said she believed the proposal for the casino should be withdrawn “really loudly.”

Ms. McKeown said she will ask the chamber, at the next meeting, to withdraw their support for the proposal.

Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb, who is also the OBPA’s deputy executive director, said he was fine with the lost opportunity of a casino on the site, especially since much needed revenue would be coming into the county.

Under the agreement, the tribe will pay $30 million of payments owed and 25 percent of future gaming revenues to the state.

In addition to resuming payments of 25 percent of their yearly electronic slot machine revenues, the tribe will pay the state half of the $60 million it has held in escrow since 2010. Franklin and St. Lawrence counties each will receive $1.8 million of that; the towns of Bombay, Fort Covington, Massena and Brasher each will get about $960,000. Under the new deal, the state will take 10 percent of slot machine money and distribute 10 percent among Clinton, Essex, Hamilton, Jefferson, Warren and Lewis counties.

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