MASSENA - A Massena businessman said he feels like part of the solution to St. Lawrence County’s problems could be solved with the addition of a second casino, this one located on the site of the former GM plan in Massena.
“There is a lot of support for this on the reservation,” according to Thomas Gramuglia.
He said he said he is aware that support from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council and state would be necessary in order to move his proposal forward.
“Governor Cuomo guaranteed the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe exclusivity,” he said referring to a pact between the tribe and the governor. “The only way this is going to work is we’re going to need their permission.”
In order to earn support from the tribal council, Mr. Gramuglia’s proposal includes two provisions that he says would be of great benefit to residents on the reservation.
The first calls for 5 percent of the casino’s revenue to be paid directly to the residents of Akwesasne through a direct payment program similar to what is in place with other casinos on tribal lands, although the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino does not issue direct payments to reservation residents.
“If the casino generates $100 million in revenue, that would make available to a family of four a payment of $10,000 per year,” he said. “That’s a good chunk of money.”
Mr. Gramuglia also said he’s proposing a two-tier hiring system that would create job opportunities for people who may of made a mistake in their past and are not eligible for employment at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.
He explained he would like to see people who may have “a small hiccup” on their criminal record be eligible for employment at the casino working in jobs that do not require them to handle money. Then after four or five years of employment with a clean record, employees could then become eligible for Tier One employment.
When asked if he thought legislation would be required to implement the two-tier hiring system, Mr. Gramuglia said he wasn’t sure, but he thought it would be something “we could get through the gaming commission.”
Mr. Gramuglia said in addition to the benefits of increased employment opportunities and direct paymentsa second casino would help to increase business at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino and turn the area into a destination.
“There would be competition, but the two casinos could work together,” he said. “Having two casinos would turn Massena into a destination. Within 60 miles there are millions of people in Montreal and Ottawa.”
According to Mr. Gramuglia, roughly 70 to 80 percent of the business at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino comes from Canada.
“We need to get some of that money,” he said, citing census data that shows the per capita income in St. Lawrence County is $21,851 and $21,570 in Franklin County compared to per capita incomes of $44,428 in Quebec and $49,940 in Ontario.
“People love to go to where there are two casinos,” Mr. Gramuglia said. “Why? Because if they lose at the first one, then they think they’ll win at the other one.”
Mr. Gramuglia is also proposing a 99-year lease on the property.
At the conclusion of the lease, Mr. Gramuglia said the land would then be turned over to the tribe.
His proposal also calls for a 5 percent “carve-out,” half of which would be used to award grants to Franklin County and St. Lawrence County residents who want to attend a SUNY school to further their education or learn a trade.
Mr. Gramuglia said this portion of his proposal is a reduced version of the similar 100 percent credit offered by Governor Cuomo to tribal members.
“The purpose of this is to give people a second chance to get an education,” he said. “If we’re going to do something for the Akwesasne people, and I’m not opposed to that, let’s do something for our people too.”
Mr. Gramuglia said in addition to creating jobs at the casino and outlet mall, giving people the opportunity to go to college or learn a trade could change someone’s life.
“This could help lower our welfare rolls by giving people a trade,” he said. “We need to give people a chance to better themselves.”
Mr. Gramuglia said it is his goal to lower the welfare rates in St. Lawrence County by 50 percent over a five-year period. Mr. Gramuglia said a 50 percent reduction in welfare costs would save the county approximately $30 million.
The other 50 percent of the so-called carve-out would be used to fund agricultural projects.
In his proposal, Mr. Gramuglia wrote, “Some intended projects within this include the fostering of livestock, the immediate reuse of abandoned properties through cooperative farming, the acquisition of agricultural harvesting equipment that could be mutually used by local farmers, and the marketing of regional crops to ensure diversified crop selection.”
Using soy beans as an example, Mr. Gramuglia said a farmer planting 100 acres of soy beans could generate $60,767 in gross revenue per year, based on the current price of soy beans at $13.37 per bushel.
As for the tax revenue such a project would create, based on an assessment of $200 million, Mr. Gramuglia said the project would generate $3 million in town and county taxes and $3.6 million in school taxes.
“Look what this could do,” he said. “It would completely straighten out the school budget and the county’s share could be used to lower the property tax and sales tax.”
In addition to the benefits of reducing the county’s hare of sales tax, the additional people a second casino would bring to the area could provide a huge boost to the St. Lawrence Centre, he suggested.
“Imagine what 2 million extra people per year could do for the mall?”
Mr. Gramuglia said he wanted to make it clear that he would not be building the casino or involved with the development of it. To find a developer for the proposal, he suggested picking one of the 17 proposals the state currently has in its possession.
“Currently there are 17 proposals for four casinos,” Mr. Gramuglia said. “We can take one of the 13 proposals not awarded and have them build a casino here.”
Reading from an article which first appeared in the Rochester Business Journal, Mr. Gramuglia noted the community of Tyre in Seneca County is hoping for a casino. The article notes they’re planning to lure tourists from Canada to the Rochester area.
One of the developers hoping to build a casino there was quoted in the article as saying, “We know, as an example, that approximately 2 million Canadians come down to the (Waterloo Premium Outlets) center,” Thomas Wilmot Sr. said. “We couldn’t figure out a way to know exactly what percentage of those people we could possibly capture, but we’re certainly going to be working on it.”
Mr. Gramuglia noted his proposal also calls for an outlet mall and would be located much closer to the Canadian border and the major populations of Ottawa and Montreal.
“That’s right over the bridge,” he said. “They’re 60 miles from the border.”
The state passed legislation in 2013 authorizing the construction of up to four casinos to be built in the state north of Long Island and the New York City Metropolitan area. The legislation currently calls for at least one casino to be built in the Southern Tier, Catskills/Hudson Valley area and the Capital District.
Due to the exclusivity agreement between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and Gov. Cuomo, Northern New York is not currently slated to receive a casino, but Mr. Gramuglia said he believes that can change with support from tribal leaders.
A message lest with the tribal council’s spokesperson on Friday was not immediately returned.
Patricia Spitzley, who serves as deputy redevelopment manager for the RACER Trust, which oversees the former GM site, said that while she cannot comment on specific proposals for the site. She said no RACER Trust officials have spoken with Mr. Gramuglia.
“RACERS’s practice is not to comment on specific prospects or proposal or to confirm or deny interest from any party,” she said. “I can tell you RACER has not spoken to or met with Mr. Gramuglia.”