News Articles

Sickened gambling employee voting to lose his casino job

NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Stephen (not his real name) doesn’t care if he loses his job at a casino if Missouri voters bring an end to “boats in moats” casinos in the state.
Stephen says he will vote against Amendment No. 9 which calls for legalizing slot machines and other “games of chance” in casinos — like the one he works at — outside the main channels of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
That’s in spite of heavy pressure from his employers not only to support the measure with his vote on Nov. 3, but also to campaign for it actively. Stephen, a mid-level administrative employee at a casino in North Kansas City, spoke to the Missouri Baptist newsjournal Word & Way on the condition that his identity be protected.
“If 9 fails, and they find out I’m against it, then there are going to be some harsh consequences,” Stephen said. “But I’m looking for a new job anyway.”
Stephen said the controversy and politics surrounding the proposed boats-in-moats amendment has soured him on working for the gambling industry in Missouri, which he has been doing since 1994 when his casino opened.
“I thought working at a casino would be a lot of fun, and it is,” he said. “But that’s if you ignore what you see and become blind to your surroundings. “I see homeless; I see drunks; I see convicts; thieves; cheaters and every other walk of life come through these doors.”
Stephen was employed on the gambling floor as a dealer when he first began working at the casino. He said he saw things that left him disgusted.
“Everyone that walks in the casino to gamble must be 21 years or older. That means you’ve got to be an adult, but it doesn’t mean you’ve got to act like one,” he said. Sometimes two gamblers want to play the same “lucky” machine. “I’ve seen and heard of men and women fighting each other over a slot machine when there are a lots of slot machines not being used,” he said.
Some of the things he has seen have turned his stomach, Stephen said — including gamblers so glued to a slot machine or blackjack table that they relieved themselves on the spot. “It doesn’t happen often, but it happens,” he said. “They even go outside on the deck of the boat.” But Stephen acknowledged those kinds of problems can happen to anyone addicted to a particular behavior, and he doesn’t think some forms of gambling are inherently bad. “I think the riverboats cruising is fine,” he said. “That can be fun.”
But, he pointed out, at least 10 of Missouri’s 15 “riverboat” casinos aren’t even capable of cruising. Stephen said he has other reasons for opposing Amendment No. 9.
“Because I don’t like liars — and I see a lot of lying on the casino industry’s side,” he said. “When the casinos come in and build these land-based things that are surrounded by puddles of water, then that’s lying to the voters four years ago.”
Stephen also said he is uncomfortable with the way his employers are pushing the issue on their workers. “The last Thursday and Friday of September, we had five special pep rallies, and they were mandatory,” he said. “I’m not too big on politics, so I didn’t know much about the issue, and all I was told was that this was an ‘informational rally.’ Everyone who walked in — even if you said ‘no’ — they slapped a little sticker on you. So, they’re forcing you to be political.” Stephen said workers also were given pro-Amendment No. 9 T-shirts and told to wear them to work two days a week.
“They’re not forcing anyone to do this, but they are trying to nail it into your head — two e-mails a day,” he said. “It’s like they’re trying to slam it down our throats.”
Stephen showed Word & Way a copy of an e-mail message employees received from the casino’s human resources department. It touted “the top 10 ways you can still get involved with Election ’98” and encouraged employees to, among other things:
— “Write letters to the editor in newspapers and respond to radio talk show programs … [H.R. can assist you].”
— “Write postcards to friends & family living in Missouri — a personal request to vote YES is more effective than direct mailing — postage is on us!”
— “Wear your blue election shirts on designated days.”
— “Help us on Election Day with precinct or poll work — we want to be out in force — please postpone everything that is not absolutely necessary that day.”
— “Let me know if you are committed to completing at least 8 of these items in the next 19 days!”
Stephen said he has quietly refused to wear the T-shirts or stickers, but has not made an issue of it for fear of reprisal. But he said he feels intimidated nevertheless — and he’s not the only one of the casino’s employees who feels that way.
Officials with the casino’s human resources department directed questions from Word & Way to a public relations consultant working for the casino. He did not return calls made to his office.
Despite the feelings of fear and intimidation, Stephen says he still will cast a “no on 9” vote proudly on Nov. 3. He cited the pro-gambling forces media appeals to “fairness” as something that particularly galvanizes his resistance. “What is fair is that the voters who voted for ‘gaming’ [in 1992 and 1994] voted for floating riverboats with fun for the whole family.
“Well, they got the fun for the whole family, but they also got a makeshift land-based casino floating on a spoonful of water called a ‘moat.'”
In 1992, legalized gambling was sold to voters as a few picturesque riverboats offering a hand or two of poker on short tourist cruises on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Today, massive non-floating casinos operate several hundred feet from the river in man-made moats.
Gambling opponents say such creeping expansion is the nature of the casino industry. Steve Taylor, spokesman for the St. Louis anti-gambling group Casino Watch, said, “Casinos spent over $12 million promoting riverboats, but, in the long run, the terms of the agreement conflicted with their strategies for expansion.”
In 1994, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that “games of chance” — slot machines, roulette and other games based purely on luck — were forbidden by the Missouri Constitution. Legalizing such games would require a constitutional amendment.
The gambling industry then bankrolled a new effort to pass an amendment allowing games of chance. The amendment appeared on ballots in April 1994 and was defeated by a margin of less than 1 percent of the popular vote.
Gambling supporters regrouped, stepped up their campaign efforts — spending nearly $12 million in the process — and passed an identical amendment in the November 1994 election by a 54-to-46-percent majority. The amendment legalized gambling “upon the Mississippi and Missouri rivers only.”
In the time between those two elections, the Missouri legislature passed Senate Bill 740, which authorized games of chance to operate in “any natural or artificial space” within 1,000 feet of the main channel of the rivers, as delineated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The first boats in moats were licensed by the Missouri Gaming Commission in 1996, shortly after Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, R.-St. Louis County, filed a lawsuit to force the commission to enforce the state constitution, which he contended had not been changed by passage of the bill allowing boats in moats.
In 1997, the state Supreme Court agreed with Akin, ruling unanimously that the legislature had no right to approve the boats in moats without a constitutional amendment.
Gambling supporters then began organizing to get Amendment No. 9 placed on the 1998 general election ballot. They succeeded in August of this year, when Secretary of State Rebecca McDowell Cook approved their petitions.
Gambling interests launched a media campaign that, at the end of the last reporting period, had spent $5.5 million. Their pro-gambling political action committee, Missourians for Fairness and Jobs, contended the court’s decision was unfair to the casinos and that it could cost Missouri as many as 10,000 jobs.
Taylor considers the fairness argument poppycock. “The casinos received their licenses only after the lawsuit was filed, and hired employees knowing that the Supreme Court decision was still pending,” he said. “Now that they’ve been caught in their own bait-and-switch, the casino power brokers that were certain their vast wealth and political influence would allow them to operate above the law have no problem attempting to blackmail Missourians with threats of the loss of jobs and tax revenues.”
Don Poston, spokesman for Missourians for Fairness and Jobs, said, “We think that, in fact, those losses of jobs will happen.” The “real issue,” he said, is the “existence or non-existence for these casinos, because these games account for about 70 percent of their revenue.”
Taylor cited the David-versus-Goliath story in noting what his organization has spent fighting Amendment No. 9 — $34,000 — compared to what Missourians for Fairness and Jobs has spent, $5.5 million.
Poston said Taylor has the Goliath-and-David metaphor backwards, because much of the opposition to Amendment No. 9 is religious. “By publications like your own, by congregations every Sunday listening to this, you have a huge base,” he said. “We have to get our message to people that don’t come and visit with us every Sunday. The congregations are a huge listening ground, a huge place to get votes and a huge place to organize.”

    About the Author

  • Rob Marus