Close committee vote expected on countywide gambling bill
By Allen Palmeri
March 30, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – An important vote on gambling March 30 in the House Tourism and Cultural Affairs Committee was expected to come down to one or two undecided representatives, according to Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Messer was lobbying one of them March 16 to vote in favor of House Bill 1547, which would require countywide approval for a proposed casino to be built anywhere in the state but on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.
If approved by the committee, the bill will proceed to the full House for consideration. The measure has much further to go before reaching the Senate floor.
Rep. Dennis Wood, R-Kimberling City and a deacon at First Baptist Church, Kimberling City, is sponsoring HB 1547 in an attempt to give Taney County voters an opportunity to weigh in on the issue. The bill is seen as a way to further deter gambling proponents who want to amend the state constitution to include the White River, clearing the way for a proposed casino for Rockaway Beach near family-oriented Branson.
While Messer and Wood were counting noses, hoping to get the 10 votes necessary for passage March 30, they did so knowing that while the bill appears to favor gambling opponents, there is the risk of gambling supporters attaching an amendment to the bill repealing the state’s $500 loss limit, Messer said.
“We can’t afford to lose that $500 loss limit," Messer said. “The $500 loss limit is much more important than this particular piece of legislation.
“Politics are confusing, difficult and challenging. Sometimes you have to fight a bill you once loved. Let’s pray this doesn’t happen this time."
The strategy of Missouri Baptists who oppose gambling, Messer said, remains to isolate each bill that comes through either the House or the Senate. Gambling proponents would like to weave together a compromise measure that would make a repeal of the $500 loss limit palatable, Messer said. Gambling opponents hope to prevent such a bill from taking shape, knowing that gambling supporters attempt to convince Missourians that gambling will boost state revenue.
“There’s a lot of politics, dirty politics really, going on there, which we don’t like," said Joey Davis, state director of Concerned Women for America and a member of First Baptist Church, Branson. “We don’t think we need to make a deal with the devil.
“People are beginning to wake up and realize this is not positive for the state. As some say, we can’t gamble ourselves out of debt. And besides that, as a Christian, God could never bless becoming addicted to revenue that is built on citizens of the state losing money."
Gambling lobbyists said the bill is unfair because it changes the procedure of how a casino is approved. Supporters of the proposed casino in Rockaway Beach have collected 188,000 signatures on petitions calling for a statewide vote to change the constitution. Gambling proponents said a countywide vote on the issue could have prevented such a petition drive.
Wood said the gambling lobbyists are mistaken when they say the state, by pondering whether to add another layer to the casino approval process, is acting less than admirably.
“If they (gambling supporters) didn’t have to change the constitution, then I think they’re right in arguing that we’re changing in the middle of the stream," Wood said. “But they’re asking the people of the state of Missouri to change the constitution so they can do something very specific, and I think that changes all the rules. I don’t think we’re adding anything to their problems."
Messer said a small city should not be given the authority to hoist all of the problems associated with gambling – crime, road problems and prostitution – onto the back of the county without providing any of the added revenue needed to deal with the concerns. If you are going to go to the extent of changing the constitution, Messer said, it only makes sense to at minimum have a countywide vote.
“We’re only trying to give people the opportunity to choose if they have a casino or don’t have," Wood said. “It’s not an anti-gambling bill."