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Gaming representatives examining whether casino here is a sure thing


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Abuhassanali Young, left, representing Fitzgeralds Casinos, visits with real estate consultant Richard Shepherd, right, and an Oakville resident who attended the recent question-and-answer session conducted by the St. Louis County Economic Development Council. Young was searching for potential south county sites for a casino in response to the county's request for gaming proposals.

By BILL MILLIGAN

For the Call

Representatives of several casino companies recently met with St. Louis County Economic Council staffers and dozens of south county residents who support and oppose casinos operating here.

The July 11 discussion was part of the county's effort to gain public input and address developers' questions about the process of gaining St. Louis County's endorsement for any casino plan submitted to the Missouri Gaming Commission.

"The Missouri Gaming Commission has expressed an interest and a thought that there is an untapped market for an additional gaming operation in the southern part of the St. Louis metropolitan area,'' said Denny Coleman, president and chief executive officer of the St. Louis County Economic Council. "We obviously feel that there are some locations within south county which may provide ideal locations. As the local government for that area, we would be involved in the selection process."

Three applications for gaming licenses are on file with the Missouri Gaming Commission and two of them involve property in south St. Louis County.

The commission still has on file a proposal to build a casino at the former National Lead site in Lemay. That proposal is headed by Denny Long and a group of area investors known as Futuresouth.

"We'll need some interface with government," Long said. "Who should we contact?"

St. Louis County has adopted a strict policy banning contact of elected officials and department heads with gambling interests. Casino developers who violate the ban could be disqualified from consideration and that rule generated most of the questions from those interested in locating casinos here.

"Would the ban apply to architects and attorneys who have other clients with plans that need county approval?" asked Tom Campbell, an attorney representing the Isle of Capri, which has a casino plan on file with the commission for land at the southwest corner of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.

Coleman laid out a contact procedure and told Campbell that the ban on contact applies only to casino businesses.

The St. Louis County Port Authority in April rescinded an exclusive lease agreement with Futuresouth to operate a gaming boat in Lemay. The lease agreement was rescinded shortly after Long informed the Port Authority that an agreement between Futuresouth and Ameristar Casinos had been "terminated.''

"The county is literally starting over," Coleman told those in attendance. "The county actually owns or controls a number of sites. One of those sites of which we are gaining access to is part of a negotiated lease for barging and fleeting operations as part of the NL Industries site.

"That particular property owner has property south of Cliff Cave Park that we are acquiring an interest in," Coleman said.

Representatives of Las Vegas, Nev.-based International Gaming and Fitzgeralds Casinos expressed interest in the south county market, but said they have no sites yet.

"We also own through the St. Louis County Port Authority the NL site, an 80-acre site," Coleman said. "During the last Missouri Gaming Commission round of selection, it was not selected.''

Lemay Fire Protection District Board of Directors Chairman James Stonebraker and Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Ray Haddock attended the meeting and had questions about tax disbursements and emergency service provisions.

Opponents of the last casino plan also were on hand.

"A presidential commission has asked for a moratorium on gaming," Sister Ruth Speh said. "National studies indicate that gaming is a bad thing for the economy. Why are we considering gaming?''

Coleman was quick to answer.

"Rivera Gaming will lease a casino site from Jefferson County in Barnhart," he said. "Once the Missouri Gaming Commission has made a determination that there is room for another facility, we, from a county perspective, have one of two choices: We can let that go to another community, or we can try and be competitive and indicate that we have a preferred site.''

Gaming proposals must be submitted by 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12.

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