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Enthusiasm ran high at the first sold-out Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce dinner and at a private reception in the Convention and Civic Center last week where about 30 high-rollers paid $1,000 to shake hands and talk with Gov. Pataki.

"I think if you look around, this community is alive, enthusiastic and generally moving in the same direction . . .,"said Henry M. Sloma, the owner of Fairchild Manor Nursing Home in Lewiston and a staunch Pataki supporter who coordinated the reception. "The same direction" many of those in the convention center were moving in is toward casino gambling. Trade unions have joined the campaign, backing the efforts of the Niagara Falls Coalition for Casino Gaming, headed by Frank V. Roma, and the Niagara Falls Redevelopment Corp., headed by Edwin F. Cogan.

Upstairs at the $1,000-a-head reception, local businessmen mixed with union leaders -- Gordon J. Knapp, business manager of the Western New York Council-United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; Michael A. Quarcini, longtime leader of Laborers Local 91; and Dominick J. Dellaccio, Local 91's business manager.

Roma said Knapp and the unions have been instrumental in raising funds and helping the casino coalition's petition drive for a referendum on casino gambling.

Roma said Pataki told him he would talk to Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, about the casino legislation. A version was defeated in the State Senate last year.

Cogan's message was that without casinos, he can still build a factory outlet mall and honor his commitment to the city of $130 million of development and get a return on his investment.

But what he really wants is two or three major casinos with free, world-class entertainment found in Las Vegas. With those kinds of anchors and with a fully operating international airport, he said people would fill up the hotels, shops and restaurants he plans to build.

Then the investment would be "20 or 30 times bigger" than the original $130 million, he said.

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