Missouri votes to lift casino loss limits

Missourians by a decisive margin Tuesday repealed the state’s USD 500 loss limit on riverboat gamblers.

„Losing was not an option,“ said Troy Stremming, an Ameristar executive and leader of the Yes on A committee, which raised and spent more than USD 15 million to pass Proposition A. With votes from 96 percent of the state’s precincts counted, the issue was winning 56 percent to 44 percent.

„Approval of this issue by the voters is a win,“ said Stremming, „not only for our state’s economy and our schools, but also for common sense in that it allows us to compete on a level playing field against neighboring states with more liberal gaming laws.“

Members of the anti-gambling Casino Watch committee were downcast late Tuesday as the final returns dribbled in late into the evening.

The heavily outspent opponents raised just USD 271,000 to defeat the measure, and more than half that sum came from a competing Illinois casino.

“We’re a grass-roots organization,” said Casino Watch research director Joe Day. “We tried to get our message out to as many people as we could. The state is pretty big.”

The loss limit was the last remaining safeguard of several put in place in 1992 to restrain legalized casino gambling in Missouri, including boarding times and requirements that the floating casinos actually cruise the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The USD 500 safety net was installed to help protect compulsive gamblers from themselves. Unique to Missouri, the rule requires monitoring of gamblers’ play through mandatory use of tracking cards that restrict the buy-in of slot machine credits and table game chips to USD 500 every two hours.

Passage means gamblers will soon be able to walk into any casino in the state without identifying themselves, unless challenged to prove they are at least 21. State officials said Tuesday that they expected the change to happen soon after results are certified by state authorities later this month.

With the betting lid off, gamblers are expected to lose a lot more than the current statewide average of USD 66.67 per typical four-hour casino visit.

Passage also will:
  • Increase casino taxes by 1 percent, to 21 percent of gross revenues;
  • Earmark an estimated USD 105 million or more in new tax revenues for schools; and
  • Cap casinos statewide at the current 13, including one under construction near St. Louis. Approval also spells the end of plans for a casino in Sugar Creek.
Missouri casinos had long sought to repeal the loss limit, arguing it drives away tourists and high rollers while invading the privacy of all gamblers. Repeal efforts in the General Assembly failed annually for more than a decade, including last year, when casinos had agreed to trade repeal for a 2 percent tax increase. Opponents argued that elimination of personal identification would handcuff law enforcement and remove the only hurdle preventing Missouri’s 13,000 self-banned problem gamblers from walking into a casino.

The Missouri Gaming Commission, which took no position on the issue, has noted that the USD 500 rule was costly to enforce and easily circumvented. The commission also said only about 2 percent of gamblers ever bumped up against it.

Proponents also argued that lifting the limit would help Kansas City area casinos compete next year when casinos with no limits open in Kansas.