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Pinnacle's selection challenged by RAGE

An anti-gambling activist from Oakville recently addressed the County Council, challenging an Economic Council committee's recommendation that Pinnacle Entertainment be allowed to develop a casino in south county.

Denny Hettenhausen, founder of Rally Against Gambling Expansion, last week asked councilmen to supply her with specific information regarding Pinnacle Entertainment, the gaming developer selected by a Port Authority Selection Committee to potentially construct a casino at the former National Lead Site in Lemay.

Isle of Capri Inc. also had submitted a proposal to develop a casino in Oakville, near the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, but was not selected by the committee.

The Port Authority and Pinnacle currently are negotiating the terms of a contract. Upon completion, a proposal will be submitted to the County Council for ratification.

The Missouri Gaming Commission is the final entity that would evaluate the proposal, but only with the county's approval.

Hettenhausen requested during the Feb. 17 session that councilmen provide her with Pinnacle's financial statements.

"Where is all this money coming from?" she asked, questioning Pinnacle's ability to fund a casino in south county.

Among her other requests, she also wanted to be supplied with a summary of jobs Pinnacle claims it would generate if granted a contract — a summary that included pay ranges and a breakdown of what types of workers would fill the jobs. Pinnacle estimates it would generate at least 2,000 jobs if its proposal to construct a casino in Lemay is approved.

Chairman Skip Mange, R-Town and Country, assured Hettenhausen that the council would provide her with the information requested, but he also noted that councilmen themselves would not receive any information on the proposal from the Economic Council for another 60 days.

Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, said he would make sure her comments and information request reached the Economic Council.

Hettenhausen also questioned the haste in which a decision was made by the Selection Committee, pointing out that the Economic Council's announcement came six days after the only public hearing on the matter in which community members were able to speak on the issue. The Economic Council conducted a public hearing Feb. 4 and Pinnacle's selection was announced Feb. 10.

"It just seems that they're very pushy about having a casino in here," she told councilmen. "Is that what they're supposed to do? I mean, are they working for the public ... who are they working for?"

Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, answered, "All I can say is that I've been on this council a long time and the people of St. Louis County did vote to approve gambling. I didn't support that measure, but people did vote for that and there has been, I think, a desire for a long time in county government, from county government for a casino. I don't share that view, but there are others that do. So, I don't think you can fault the Economic Council."

The Economic Council was trying to find the best proposal for the county — not determine whether there should be a casino in the county, Odenwald added.

"That's going to be our job,'' he said.

County Executive Charlie Dooley also addressed Hettenhausen and asserted the Economic Council's evaluation of the gaming proposals was the first step in a longer process.

In every e-mail he sent in response to Hettenhausen's and other residents' concerns he noted there would be an opportunity for public comment.

"And there has been," Dooley said. "I'm not saying it's where you want it to be or where it needs to be, but there has been public input."

Once the County Council receives a proposal from the Economic Council, Mange told Hettenhausen, public hearings would take place before any decision would be made by the council.

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