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June 12, 2021

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Casino groups: removing gambling limits would increase money to state

But an opponent said the moves would bode ill for compulsive gamblers, and is the opposite of what voters approved in 1992.

"There were safeguards promised to Missourians when they voted to approve riverboat gambling. What we have has little resemblance to what people approved," said Steve Taylor, executive director of Casino Watch Inc., in Ballwin.

The law approved by voters in November 1992 was promoted with images of Mark Twain-style steamboats easing along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers with limited gambling, and options for family recreation.

Now, there are 12 licensed casinos operating at nine locations in Missouri, including Stations Casino near Kansas City, claiming to be the nation's fourth-largest casino. All of the gambling boats are moored in fixed locations.

The Senate Corrections and General Laws Committee heard testimony on legislation repealing state law limiting gamblers from losing no more than $500 during each two-hour "cruise" aboard the floating casinos.

The committee also considered ending the cruising limits - made part of the law when it was first thought the boats actually would cruise the rivers.

The panel will continue its hearing next week.

Senate President Pro Tem Bill McKenna, sponsor of the legislation, said removing the loss limits means more people will board Missouri boats instead of boats in neighboring states with no limits.

McKenna, D-Barnhart, said gamblers on St. Louis area boats lose an average of $21 per trip, versus $31 on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

Casinos now pay a 20 percent tax on adjusted gross receipts. Of that, 18 percent goes to the state for education and the rest goes to local governments hosting the boats.

When the current budget year ends June 30, the state expects to have received a total of $300 million for education, said Jim Moody, lobbyist for the President Casino on the Admiral boat at St. Louis.

Moody, former state budget director and commissioner of administration, said removing the restrictions could mean an extra $60 million a year for education.

As it now stands, Moody said, Missouri casinos are competing against boats in Illinois and Iowa, and American Indian casinos in Kansas and Nebraska. He suggested that if the limits are not lifted, some Missouri gambling boats could go out of business.

"What we're seeing are competitive forces. Absent some changes, we probably are going to see closings (of casinos) and loss of jobs," Moody said.

"The dollars are walking to the other states. People are going where they can have the most entertainment for the dollars," he said.

Also backing the legislation was Ann Daniels, city administrator for Riverside, where the Argosy casino is based. She said the Missouri River town has collected some $18 million as its share of taxes from the boat.

She urged removing the cruise limits, saying that would mean more people would be able to gamble aboard the Argosy.

Similar legislation was considered Tuesday by a House committee which took no action.

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Gambling bills are SB343-SB344 (McKenna).

Bills are available on the Missouri General Assembly site on the Internet at the following address:

http://www.moga.state.mo.us/

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