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Dawson suggests casino for former tracetrack 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, it could make extending the Massena International Airport runway to make it more accessible to larger planes even more feasible.

Mr. Dawson told his board members Wednesday that he’d like to see state officials site one of seven proposed casinos on more than 900 of acres of land in Brasher and Norfolk.

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 perfectly as a way to attract visitors to the region, must like they had envisioned for the racetrack and entertainment complex.

As part of the state’s budget passed in April, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed the creation of a gambling commission to plan an expansion of up to seven non-Indian casinos and a commission to evaluate tax breaks and incentives 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 runway at the Massena International Airport from 5,600 feet to 6,500 feet to accommodate larger planes, which would allow the airport to compete with other area airports, such as Plattsburgh, Ottawa and Montreal.

And, with tourists coming in via the Massena airport, it would benefit the entire county, he has said, noting they would spend their money locally and contribute to the sales tax, which is divvied up between 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 ground. Why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It’s going to happen somewhere.”

If it’s going to become a reality, though, Mr. Dawson said they’ll need a concerted effort from everybody to convince state officials to site the casino in the region.

“If we could get everybody together, can you imagine the sales tax that would generate?” he told board members. “I think it has some merit, but you have to get everybody involved, including Franklin County.”

Working together, Mr. Dawson said, they would need to convince Mr. Cuomo “the whole north country would be pulled up by its boot straps” if a casino was built in the area.

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

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