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Casino Watch does not represent Lemay community, chamber says

An effort by an anti-gaming organization to force a public vote on a Lemay casino is being criticized by the executive director of the Lemay Chamber of Commerce, who contends that Casino Watch "does not speak for our community.''

Representatives of Casino Watch on Friday submitted more than 800 signatures on a petition seeking to delay enactment of legislation approved June 29 by the County Council authorizing a lease agreement between the Port Authority and Pinnacle Entertainment that calls for the gaming company to construct and operate a casino at the former National Lead site in Lemay.

The agreement requires Pinnacle to invest no less than $3 million in its entire project, which could include a 90,000-square-foot casino with 100 hotel rooms, and 280,000 square feet of non-gaming facilities, including retail, commercial and entertainment centers.

The legislation had been scheduled to take effect July 16, and if the signatures are verified by the county Board of Election Commissioners, Casino Watch will have until Aug. 24 to collect more than 24,000 signatures on a petition to place the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot.

A news release issued by Casino Watch states the process for placing the Lemay casino before voters is under way and various groups will be involved in obtaining signatures for the petition.

On July 7, Casino Watch had submitted a petition with nearly 1,500 signatures, but withdrew it the next day, citing concerns the petition forms may not have been properly signed and notarized.

On Friday, the organization submitted a petition with more than 800 signatures.

Noting the number of signatures that had been collected in such a short period of time, Casino Watch Chairman Mark Andrews stated in a news release, "With this kind of commitment and energy, we should have no problem getting this before the voters in November.''

However, in a statement released last week, Lemay Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Barbara Hehmeyer said, "Casino Watch does not speak for our community. This small group is petitioning to delay the process of bringing much-needed economic development to Lemay and south county in an attempt to impose their personal view on our entire area.

"Throughout the county's very public selection process, everyone with a stake in the project has had several opportunities to express their opinions. At every one of the five public meetings on this issue, the strong community support for the Pinnacle proposal has dwarfed the opposition. More importantly, two scientific surveys conducted by the University of Missouri-St. Louis have shown overwhelming support for Pinnacle's plan within the Lemay area for this development — 76 percent — and also in south county as a whole.''

Missouri citizens voted to approve gaming, Hehmeyer noted.

Of Casino Watch, she said, "This small group, which has lost at every turn in this process, now wants to change the rules and block important development, jobs and school funding for Lemay and south county. The Lemay Chamber of Commerce, along with the Lemay community, strongly supports Pinnacle Entertainment's proposal for our area. We are extremely frustrated that this group, with no plan to bring jobs or development to Lemay, is now attempting to subvert the clear will of the people, and the fair process in which we have all participated.

"Casino Watch will not invest $300 million in Lemay; they will not clean up a long-abandoned toxic waste site; they will not generate 2,000 jobs for south county; they will not put food on the tables of our families; they will not buy books for our schools. Pinnacle Entertainment's development will do all these things. It will help us bring new life to our community. We encourage the Missouri Gaming Commission to move this process forward and bring Lemay residents the development we need and want,'' the chamber's executive director concluded.

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