Proposition A looms as threat to current way of keeping order
By Allen Palmeri
JEFFERSON CITY—A massive expansion of gambling in terms of the amount of money lost annually by citizens in Missouri’s casinos is on the Nov. 4 ballot in the form of Proposition A, which purports to be “for” education and “against” expanding the number of casinos in the state.
In exchange for a hike in the casino state tax rate from 20 to 21 percent, the $500 loss limit per two-hour period would be dropped, creating an additional $500 million in losses per year and anywhere from $100-$130 million of new revenue purportedly for public schools.
“Having grown to a $1.5 billion industry in just a few short years, Missouri’s casinos are thriving,” said Kerry Messer, founder of Missouri Family Network and lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). “But they are greedy for more. Proposition A gives a government guarantee for a permanent monopoly to existing casinos. Engaging in aggressive predatory business practices is already the trademark of the casino industry, and Proposition A only adds deeper cutting teeth to their predation.”
While Las Vegas-based Ameristar Casinos and Pinnacle Entertainment, who both have large stakes in the Missouri casino market, are pouring millions of dollars into the campaign to pass Proposition A, grassroots networks and coalitions are looking to defeat it. They are rallying around www.NOonA.com, a website where truth is being disseminated.
“It brings the whole background of Casino Watch, which has been around for this entire 14 years basically fighting this issue and any kind of expansion of gambling within the state,” said Dan Hite, a Missouri Baptist pastor of Christian Family Fellowship in Wentzville who chairs Missouri Clergy Against Gambling Expansion (MOCAGE). “They have put all of their resources available to this one centralized website to be able to get materials. There are downloadable materials, bulletin inserts, many posters, signs—all those kinds of things are available there. They have put themselves out on a limb to be able to print up multiples of these if you can’t print it up yourself, and send them around to churches. They will do that all around the state. They’re committed to seeing this through.”
Missouri Baptists have historically cited biblical reasons to be against gambling. Those include: trusting the sovereignty of God over human events (Matt. 10:29-30); man working creatively and using his possessions for the good of others (Eph. 4:28); shunning covetousness and materialism (Matt. 6:24-34); and loving God and one’s neighbor as opposed to seeking personal gain and pleasure at another person’s loss and pain (Matt. 22:37-40). In summation, according to the Ethics & Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), gambling is personally selfish, morally irresponsible and socially destructive.
The NOonA campaign is broadening its reach beyond biblical arguments to include statements by both of Missouri’s major gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jay Nixon and Republican Kenny Hulshof, where both men are positioned against the passage of the proposition.
In a 2005 letter to Casino Watch, Nixon wrote, “A key challenge in the fight against crime is keeping criminal elements out of our state. Casinos and, in particular, those without loss limits can provide an attractive and convenient means for drug dealers, organized crime, and even potential terrorists to ‘launder’ money derived from criminal activity, thus hiding the illegal origin of that money.”
Speaking this year to the Casino Watch Committee, Hulshof said, “Proposition A removes mandatory identification requirements the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) needs to solve crimes such as identity theft, sexual assault, kidnapping, murder, and more. Missouri’s safety depends on keeping these critical law enforcement tools. Missouri does not need the problems caused by increased gambling. That’s why I’m voting no on Proposition A.”
Highway Patrol Capt. Lester Elder supervises about 105 troopers in the gaming enforcement division. They are spread out in groups of about a half a dozen or so in the state’s 12 casinos, and they are there to enforce the rules and regulations set forth by the Missouri Gaming Commission, as well as statutes enacted by the Missouri General Assembly. And while opponents of Proposition A state that passage of the ballot measure would be dangerous because it would eliminate the Player’s Cards used to identify gamblers in casinos, Elder was careful to avoid using that type of language.
“The Patrol doesn’t take a stance for or against an election issue,” he said.
A check of the statistics reveals that MSHP is quite efficient right now when it comes to apprehending criminals in casinos. Last year MSHP was able to solve more than 95.8 percent (1,611) of 1,682 casino-related crimes committed. There is something to be said for the status quo, Elder said.
“We have a good case solvability rate,” he said. “We do utilize the Player’s Card for identification of criminals when that situation arises. That’s not something we access on non-criminal issues, but if there’s an assault or a theft or some crime that occurs, we’re able to identify on that casino floor who that person said they were when they came in to get their Player’s Card.
“There are always thoughts that if the loss limit’s not there (then) there may be your larger criminals coming in because there’s more opportunity for them to gain more money by cheating at gambling. I don’t know. We’re going to have to wait and see.
“Obviously there’s video of everything that occurs on the casino floor. Video is great, but when you couple that with the Player’s Card, not only do you have a video but now you also have a possible identity of a person. Without that possible identity via the Player’s Card then, sure, you take away a large tool for criminal enforcement.”
Missouri began casino gambling on riverboats in 1994 and has thus far maintained a good reputation around the nation for its comparative lack of criminality, Elder said. The Missouri loss limit law is unique in that no other state has anything like it. Come Nov. 4, that niche could be no more.
“We’re well-respected by other jurisdictions,” the Highway Patrol captain said. “We’ve truly had no major corruption to speak of since the gaming’s been in existence, and I think that’s because of the joint relationship between the Gaming Commission and the Highway Patrol.
“We’ve been able to closely regulate and closely enforce those regulations, and monitor everybody, and we’ve been successful, in my opinion, in doing that.”
If the Player’s Card/loss limit distinction is eliminated from the equation by means of a yes vote on Nov. 4, Elder said he and his troopers will still try to maintain their current high standard of effectiveness.
“We’re going to do the most professional job we can do with the tools that we’re given,” he said. “Any time we investigate a crime, you can rest assured the Highway Patrol is going to devote its best resources to do that—to be able to try to solve that, to protect the citizens of the state. Now taking away the Player’s Card, does that take away a great enforcement tool? Yes, it does.”
Messer said it simply must not be allowed to happen.
“Criminals from low-level drug dealers to sophisticated international terrorists ignore Missouri as they launder cash through casinos,” he said. “Management of loss limits provides tools for catching underage gamblers and even verifying alibis of crime suspects. Proposition A takes all of this away!”