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ELECTION 08: Gambling seeks gains in Mo.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Missouri’s casinos are offering $100 million or more in additional funding for the state’s schools. All they ask in return is the elimination of all future competitors and unlimited access to Missourians’ pocketbooks.

Proposition A, sponsored by the casino-backed “Yes for School Coalition,” secured enough signatures to submit the proposal to Secretary of State Robin Carnahan in January. The cover letter was signed by the chief government affairs officer of Ameristar Casinos and was on Ameristar letterhead. Carnahan certified the petition in February.

Litigation challenging Proposition A theoretically could stop it from going forward, said Evelio Silvera, executive director of Casino Watch, a volunteer organization devoted to opposing the expansion of gambling. But gambling opponents’ “NO on A” campaign decided in early October they had no choice but to proceed with an all-out effort to defeat the proposition, concluding that it is destined to go before the voters. A lawsuit against Proposition A in Cole County Circuit Court was dismissed Oct. 20 but an appeal reportedly will be filed.

Proposition A is not a constitutional amendment but a proposed revision of various chapters of Missouri law relating to casinos and gambling. The changes deal with four issues — the present loss limit of $500 per two-hour period, identification of compulsive gamblers, the number of casinos in the state and the tax rate they pay.

When Missouri voters approved riverboat gambling in 1992, they included a limit on the amount anyone could lose “per excursion,” currently understood to be a two-hour period (because the “riverboats” actually are docked}

According to Silvera, the loss limit is the last remnant of the original law approved by voters.

Also going by the wayside would be safeguards to assist those who become addicted to gambling. Under current law, compulsive gamblers can register on the Disassociated Persons List (DAP), rendering them ineligible to receive the plastic cards that casinos issue to patrons. Those on the list, therefore, are not admitted to the casinos. But since the cards are used to keep track of loss limits, there would be no need to issue them.

At present, more than 12,000 compulsive gamblers have registered for DAP to protect themselves from their own gambling impulses. Under the new law, casinos would have to check identities only for age.

And under Proposition A, no other casinos would be licensed beyond the 11 currently operating in the state and one for which a license is pending.

In exchange, Proposition A would have casinos pay 21 percent in state taxes rather than the current 20 percent. The additional 1 percent would be designated for primary and secondary schools.

As of Sept. 15, the Missouri Gaming Commission website indicated that the state’s casinos had accumulated adjusted gross receipts of $1.2 billion for 2008. Adjusted gross receipts are determined by accumulations from licensed games and devices minus winnings paid out. Gaming tax on that amount is $217 million. The casino industry claims that the additional 1 percent tax generated under the new law would mean another $100 million or more for the state.

However, Silvera pointed out that Missourians would have to lose an extra $500 million for the state to receive the $100 million. “There is absolutely no guarantee that a dime will go to any school that needs it in Missouri,” he said.

In March, two St. Louis County men sued Carnahan and State Auditor Susan Montee to stop Proposition A from coming before the voters.

Edwin P. McKaskel and Harold H. Hendrick argued that the ballot title is deceptive -– “The Schools First Elementary and Secondary Education Initiative” – as is Carnahan’s descriptive summary of the proposition. They also questioned the assumptions of the fiscal note issued by Montee of projected tax receipts. Finally, they challenged Proposition A’s constitutionality because it contains more than one subject.

Another lawsuit has been filed by a state representative from Sugar Creek in conjunction with a resident of Cape Girardeau, both of whom are seeking to bring casinos to their respective areas and thus they oppose the cap on casinos in Missouri, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On Oct. 7, organizers of No on A, or www.NOonA.com, launched their campaign to defeat Proposition A.

“Missourians understand the protection of the loss limit, and they realize the times that we’re going through right now are tough,” Silvera said. “There’s no reason why we should be buying into any ‘bailout plan’ for a couple of Missouri casino companies just to put an extra $500 million out of the pockets of Missourians and into the pockets of Ameristar and Pinnacle Casinos, particularly when they’re utilizing our children on the backs of education as a means of passing this through on the ballot.”

Silvera described Las Vegas-based Ameristar and Pinnacle as “the primary funders, backers, and chief deception artists of Proposition A.”

The proposition is not receiving widespread support from school boards or teacher groups, Silvera noted. Instead, funding for the ballot initiative is coming from casino companies, family members of casino employees, current gamblers, and others who directly benefit from the casinos.

Advertising is being molded into the familiar “Yes for Schools” mantra, with promises of upwards of $100 million, upwards of $130 million, of new revenue being put toward education based on gamblers losing an extra $500 million in 2009.

Silvera said he is appalled by the prospect of $500 million in gambling losses being added to the $1.6 billion lost in Missouri casinos in 2007. “That’s an expansion of gambling,” he said.

Concerning the proposed cap on the number of Missouri casinos, some view it as a way to pacify anti-gambling voters in southwest Missouri who hope to shield the Branson area from getting a casino.

Silvera rejected that reasoning, saying, “I think that the announcements of our death in a certain region of Missouri are greatly exaggerated, to destroy the quote from Mark Twain. Literally, in southwest Missouri they understand exactly what is going on here.”

Law enforcement officials are concerned that if Proposition A passes it will take away the value of the mandatory identification requirements in tracking crime. Thanks to the players card which is tied to the loss limit, the Missouri Highway Patrol was able to solve more than 95.8 percent (1,611) of 1,682 casino-related crimes committed last year.

While schools allegedly would benefit from the passage of Proposition A, Silvera said schools actually are being exploited. In a statement to the Missouri Joint Committee on Education, members of the Senate Minority Caucus noted that upwards of half the total of Missouri schools would not receive any money at all, and only 19 cents of every dollar would go to the few eligible schools. This would occur because Proposition A does not give the money directly to school districts but instead filters it through a state funding formula.

Proposition A was a key focus of Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission meeting Sept. 25.

“If you look at this ballot initiative and think that it’s going to protect your community, you’re horribly mistaken,” said Phil Gloyer, CLC chairman and a layman from Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin. “The gambling industry is never going to stop. This is just one more step towards what they would like to see is a saturation of our state with opportunities for people to gamble — to donate their money.

“I think if a community doesn’t have a casino in their neighborhood right now, I can understand why they’d want to protect that, but it’s short-sighted to think that this ballot initiative would actually provide that protection in the long run,” Gloyer said. “In fact, in doing away with the loss limit, it’s going to increase the amount of money that people are losing at casinos, and it’s going to increase the needs that we have around the state to address the problems that come out of gambling. The casino 100 miles away still affects your community.”
Compiled from reports in The Pathway, the newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, by contributing writer Barbara Shoun and associate editor Allen Palmeri.

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