Casinos plot to increase their profits
By Lee Warren
March 22, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Legislative proposals currently being pitched to Missouri legislators have far-reaching implications that could lead to the largest expansion of Missouri’s casino industry in almost 15 years, according to Kerry Messer, lobbyist, Missouri Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission.
House Bill 592 would require winnings of more than $1,200 — won by self-excluded problem gamblers — to be turned over to the Compulsive Gamblers Fund. While the bill seems to help hold these admitted problem gamblers accountable, Messer said the obvious intent of gambling proponents is to use the bill tactically in the General Assembly in the weeks to come in order to actually advance their cause exponentially.
From the opening of Missouri’s first casino venue, it took approximately 10 years for the industry to become a billion-dollar parasite, Messer said. The agenda developing in the General Assembly will allow these casinos to double their winnings in much less time.
“Their apparent main strategy is to offer a cap on the number of casino licenses in the state and to add an additional tax on the gross receipts of the casinos, giving most conservative legislators two additional reasons to vote for the bill,” Messer said. “Plus, you have the base bill (HB 592) which is a reasonable issue that they can’t vote against. So now they have three good things and one bad thing on the bill.”
The “bad thing” to which Messer refers is the removal of the law that caps the loss limit at $500 per two-hour period. The removal of the loss limit was not initially proposed in the bill, but is expected to be added to HB 592 in the Senate now that it has passed the House. By utilizing this strategy, casinos and their political allies avoid any committees or public hearings in their bid to balloon their industry.
Messer said it will be hard to maintain the state’s protective loss limit. The danger is in the influx of the last two historically large freshman classes of lawmakers. This has left the Legislature unfamiliar with the history of our casino experience even though it is only 15 years old. The result is that the Legislature may be more inclined to vote for the bill, even with the striking of the loss limit, for pragmatic reasons.
“We’re looking at up to three quarters of the Legislature, many confused by the political rhetoric—who, if not guided purely by a worldview principle, have no concept of why, politically, they should not vote for this bill,” Messer said. “In fact, they are given all the pragmatic reasons why they should.
“By increasing the taxes—based on gross income revenue of receipts, not net gain—once loss limits are removed and they are making more money than ever, taxed at a higher rate than ever—we’re coming up with a total estimated revenue gain to the state of $100 million. And that’s just for the first year. That’s a pretty good incentive to move forward with the legislation, especially if you have no other historical or other sound reason to oppose this gambling expansion.
“So, we’re left with only a limited number of the majority party and a few members of the minority party who are willing to say, ‘This is the wrong thing to do,’ based on a worldview understanding.”
Jim Wells, director of missions, Tri County Baptist Association, didn’t comment specifically about the House bill, but he did offer an admonition to Missouri Baptists about gambling in general. Tri County ministers to the Rockaway Beach area which pushed for casino gambling last year.
“Missouri Baptists need to be vigilant against any attempt to expand gambling in the state,” Wells said. “From a moral, ethical standpoint, we need to stay consistent with our ethical value system.”
Messer said that if the bill came up for a vote today, then gambling would most likely be greatly expanded in Missouri because there may not be enough votes to stop it from passing. And he said that proponents of the bill are hoping to bring it up for debate with minimal discussion because they know that the more the bill is discussed on the floor of the Legislature, the less likely it is to pass. That’s where he said the grassroots efforts of Missouri Baptists who are in tune with their elected officials come in.
“We want to motivate Missouri citizens to pick up the phone and call their legislators and say, ‘Hey, I understand there is a significant potential of an agenda to remove the $500 loss limit and I’m asking you not to support that expansion of casino gambling,’” Messer said. “I’m asking you to please actively oppose the casino industry’s proposal to further exploit Missouri families.”