Suburban casino plan takes shape

Sunday, April 11, 2004

CLAYTON, Mo. -- The St. Louis County Council likely will consider a plan that guarantees a $4 million aquatic center and extra funds for schools and community groups in exchange for the right to build a new casino in suburban St. Louis.

A lease has not been signed, but the county and Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. have agreed to the significant terms.

St. Louis city and county previously selected Pinnacle to build two casinos in the region. Both plans still need approvals to move forward.

Details of the new foundation are still being worked out, but early estimates indicated the casino company could contribute about $4 million a year to it. The funds would then be split among local schools and community organizations.

The county council has tentatively planned a hearing for April 20 for public comment on the county property, and would still have to give its own approval. State regulators also would have to sign off on both projects.

Some county officials have worried that Lemay, currently in an unincorporated area, would incorporate in an attempt to capture the casino revenue.

The proposed 99-year lease called St. Louis County the home dock for the Lemay casino, phrasing that should guarantee the county would get the $14 million in gaming taxes it would produce, instead of another community.

"This is one of the mechanisms we are using to try to protect the county against that," said Mark Brady with the county economic council.

The proposed lease also said Pinnacle won't open another casino on either side of the Mississippi River between the southern boundary of the city of St. Louis and the northern boundary of Jefferson County.

The document said a shopping center, movie theater and bowling alley Pinnacle is planning to build must open within three years of the casino opening.

The county agreed not to endorse or assist a competing casino, provided that Pinnacle is not in default and not earning less than $200 million a year in revenue.

It also said Pinnacle must build a four-lane road extension to the site, the former National Lead plant near the Mississippi River.

Pinnacle officials declined comment Friday to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch because the lease had not yet been signed, and it had not been approved by their board of directors. The Associated Press could not reach Pinnacle after business hours.

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