Monthly Archives: April 2008

how Missouri is leading the way to prevent gambling addiction

Missouri’s $500 loss limit is not the only thing that helps curb gambling addiction; Missouri’s colleges are also leading the way. An article by The Christian Science Monitor, mentioned by WDAM in Mississippi, points to the ever-growing problem of gambling on college campuses. The articles explains:

Forty percent of 18- to 22-year-olds gambled monthly in 2007, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center in Pennsylvania. That percentage actually represents a decline from 2006, thanks in part to a federal law that curtailed Internet gambling. Still, last year, about 5 percent gambled weekly and had problems such as spending more money than they planned.

Now with talks of Congress lifting the ban on Internet gambling and moving toward its regulation, the number of gambling addicts on college campuses could once again rise. Missouri is leading a unique coalition of colleges in an effort to alleviate and educate problem and pathological gamblers. The Christian Science Monitor further explains:

Whether it’s in dorm rooms or at a “casino night” fundraiser, gambling pervades college campuses. And more schools are starting to take notice of the problems it can spawn.

In Missouri, for example, a coalition of 12 schools is working hard to reach out to students about gambling. They’re starting to address betting through orientations and health surveys. They’re training financial-aid officers to ask about gambling debts if a student requests an emergency loan. And earlier this month, they promoted an educational website (Keeping the Score) with giveaways during National Problem Gambling Awareness Week.

This effort should be applauded but its only the first step. We need to stay vigilant and not only contact our local legislators about preventing the expansion of gambling, but we also need to encourage those at the university level to take advantage of these programs and to continue to work hard at keeping these programs up to par and successful.

The universities are a key area to start the education and fight of this social problem. George McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs at Purdue, said colleges and universities should “take on a responsibility to provide information about the law, to challenge students to think about their own ethics and values … to be sure they understand where they can go if they think they might have a problem,”

shameless…Rep. Shannon Cooper never met a casino lobbying gift he didn’t take!

Several media outlets, watchdog groups, bloggers, reporters, etc… spend a good amount of time educating the public on particular campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts and there effect on elected officials and the type of legislation they support and pass. Even when confronted with the details of a recent gift or contribution many elected officials simply give the standard answer of their judgement not being affected and continue to happily take the gifts from special interests.

However, there is one state representative who not only flaunts the contributions and gifts from gambling special interests, he fully expects to receive what he wants, when he wants it. After all, he is working hard to keep the casino industry happy. This elected official is none other than Rep. Shannon Cooper. He is among one of the largest recipeints of campaign contributions from the casino industry and has a social calendar filled with gambling special interest funded trips, hotel stays, concerts and more.

He is so proud of doing the casino industry’s bidding that he is now displaying a poster for Ameristar casino on the door to his legislative office in the State Capital building. That’s right…while other legislators display pictures and posters from their district, their alma-mater, or their family, Rep. Cooper proudly displays the source of campaign dollars and several lavish gifts. Don’t take our word for it…see for yourself (taken the morning of Tuesday, April 29, 2008):

The latest casino gift that Rep. Cooper enjoyed came last week with a complimentary hotel stay at Ameristar following a Jimmy Buffet concert in St. Louis. Virginia Young of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported

Rep. Shannon Cooper is among those headed to St. Louis tonight for the sold-out Jimmy Buffet concert at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

Cooper, R-Clinton, said he got a complimentary room for the night at the nearby Ameristar Casino hotel.

“Of course they got me a room,” he said.

The story was later updated:

Cooper said his ticket was free but he can’t remember who gave it to him.

It seems when you take so many lobbyist gifts it might be hard to keep track of the source. In Kit Wager’s report for the Kansas City Star, Rep. Cooper states:

If Ameristar wants to give me a room, I’ll take it. If someone wants to buy me tickets to a concert, I’ll let them. I don’t ask that often.

It seems that the frequency of gifts received by Rep. Cooper put him in a situation where he really never has to ask for them, he just does the work to make the gambling special interest happy and they make sure he doesn’t have to wait to receive a gift. As Randy Turner of the Turner Report highlights:

From the Feb. 10 Turner Report:

By all accounts, the performance given by country music legend George Jones June 10, 2007, at the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City was a rousing success and Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, had eight tickets to that event, worth $440, courtesy of lobbyist Betsy Morgan.

From the Oct. 6, 2007 Turner Report:

May 9 was a big night for freebies for Shannon Cooper. He accepted five Kenny Chesney tickets worth $345 from Stephen Knorr, University of Missouri lobbyist, and $343 in travel and lodging from Ameristar Casinos lobbyist Jorgen Schlemeier, though Schlemeier only attributed a part of the cost to Ameristar, since it was the last day of the legislative session, it appears Cooper did quite a bit of celebrating.

Cooper also took a cruise provided by Ameristar Casinos lobbyist Sarah Topp during the National Conference of State Legislators in August.

Wager does note in his article that, ” Cooper, a Clinton Republican, insisted that the free room had nothing to do with his legislation.”

However, this would certainly not be the first time that gifts and contributions have coincided with legislative action from Rep. Cooper. Randy Turner at the Turner Report notes:

From the March 31 Turner Report:

Two days before Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, submitted a bill to remove the loss limits for Missouri casinos, he may have been conducting some in-person research at one of those facilities.
Documents posted minutes ago on the Missouri Ethics Commission website indicate Cooper, whose bill would also limit the opening of new casinos in the state, thus lessening competition for those already here, had $771.17 for “hotel accommodations” paid for by Matthew Clark, lobbyist for Ameristar Hotel and Casino in Kansas City.

There are several elected officials that take the time to educate themselves on the issues, and are diligent in their reponsibilites to their constituents. Many of these legislators deal with a great amount of pressure from opposing sides on a variety of issues. And while the practice of lobbying gifts and special interest contributions doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, we must continue to stay vigilant and educated in order to keep our elected officials accountable. Hopefully, by examining contributions and lobbyist gifts we can weed out those legislators who will bend at the whim of a special interest gift from those who carry themselves with true character and remember that, “The Welfare of the People Shall be the Supreme Law.”

Past Stories:

MO State Rep. Cooper accepts casino lobbyist gift then files legislation to remove loss limits

Legislator who proposes loss limit removal received nearly $1,700 in casino lobbyists’ gifts in 2007

why education funding should never be tied to gambling

The decriminalization of gambling has been an interesting ride. Typically casinos have won over local communities and legislatures by offering them a cut of the action in the form of tax revenues. The most common tactic by the casinos is offering to provide funding for schools in exchange for decriminalization of gambling. The well documented problem with such an approach is the “shell game;” taking money that would have normally been directed to education and shifting into other programs all the while claiming the casinos are putting countless dollars in education coffers.

The worst of these shell games comes when a states education budget is tied to a percentage of the proceeds from gambling. The more that is gambled the more that goes to education. The problem, as explained by The Tampa Tribune, comes when gambling revenues are down. Florida’s situation is explained:

Just when lawmakers thought the state education budget cutbacks couldn’t get worse, they did.

Blame it on the dip in people who buy scratch-off lottery tickets. Lottery income, which usually accounts for about 5 percent of the state’s education budget, won’t be as much as lawmakers had expected this year when they first crafted the school spending plan.

Rep. Joe Pickens, the House education budget chief, is bracing for about a $40 million to $100 million drop in funds, he said Tuesday.

So now Florida is facing a situation where students will suffer if people don’t gamble and lose more money. There are real consequences to this kind of loss of revenue and The Tampa Tribune continues to explained how devastating these situations are:

That money pays for everything from faculty salaries to library books, said Dan Holsenbeck, vice president of university relations at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. UCF received $30.8 million in lottery education money this fiscal year. “As that amount of funding decreases, then we can’t hire faculty for vacant positions, we can’t recruit…” Holsenbeck said.

And those concerns are not unique to higher education. Cuts could be required at all levels of public education from pre-kindergarten to secondary education.

It is deplorable to hold hostage the education of innocent children. Please remember as you hear more and more about initiatives to fund education through gambling that everyone losses. People in Missouri have already lost 1.5 billion annually and if they loose less, that could be less money that goes to fund education. Education dollars would never be used to encourage more people to drink more or used to encourage people to smoke more so why would we allow such dollars to be used to encourage people to gamble more.

“don’t tase me bro!” coming to Missouri casinos

The casino industry likes to tell everyone that they are simply a family entertainment venue where everyone is welcome and no one should have any safety concerns. Unfortunately for the Missouri casino industry, the General Assembly has let the cat out of the bag. As reported by the Columbia Missourian the General Assembly has allocated $32,438 to purchase 24 tasers to be carried by law enforcement at the Missouri casinos. Law enforcement officials believe this is a necessary move to protect Missouri gamblers from the violence one can experience at a casino. At explained by the Missourian:

The Missouri State Highway Patrol, which sought the Tasers for its officers, said they are needed to quell violent situations that sometimes erupt as gamblers are drinking alcohol and losing money. Last year alone, there were 41 instances where officers had to use force in casinos

The casinos are not happy to say the least. Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, the head lobbyist group for the casinos, said he was concerned the tasers would be used inappropriately on casino patrons. Considering the level of training and professionalism of our law enforcement officers, to say this comment is offensive understates its impact. These tasers are used as an alternative to deadly force as further explained by the Missourian:

When confronting suspects or dangerous situations, the first option still is to use verbal commands, followed by physical force and, as a last resort, a gun, public safety officials said.

“The Taser is merely a tool within that use of force continuum that is short of having to shoot somebody,” said Mark James, director of the Department of Public Safety.

It’s a sad day for the casino industry when their best argument for keeping tasers out of their violent casinos is potential misuse by a trained officer. If the current level of violence continues to rise in Missouri casinos we may have to increase the number of trained officers at each of these “family fun entertainment venues” from the already unbelievably high number of 110 officers at just 12 casinos. You should think twice before you go out for a fun and quiet night at the casino.

taking aim at the illegal gambling that fuels dog fighting

State Representative Jane Cunningham introduced legislation (HB 2416) which would change the laws regarding dog fighting in Missouri. While dog fighting is already illegal in the state of Missouri, many lawmakers across the country have re-visited the issue in response to the attention brought last summer by former NFL star Michael Vick. The steps taken in HB 2416 are a practical and responsible approach to not only keeping more animals from being endangered, but cutting back the financial motivation that fuels these dog fights, which comes in the form of illegal gambling by spectators.

This week members of the House Special Committee on General Laws heard testimony regarding HB 2416. A variety of speakers representing the Humane Society and Animal Control testified in favor of the bill. Casino Watch also took the opportunity to speak and persuade members of the committee to pass this bill because of the influence it will have on curbing the illegal gambling involved with these fights. Rep. Cunningham’s legislation specifies that any person who is found guilty of a second or subsequent dog fighting offense will be guilty of a class D felony. This change directly impacts the spectators of these fights by raising a misdemeanor offense to a felony with more serious penalties.

According to the Humane Society of the United States:

Spectators provide much of the profit associated with dogfighting. The money generated by admission fees and gambling helps keep this “sport” alive. Because dogfights are illegal and therefore not widely publicized, spectators do not merely happen upon a fight; they seek it out. They are willing participants who support a criminal activity through their paid admission and attendance.

Because dogfighting yields such large profits for participants, the minor penalties associated with misdemeanor convictions are not a sufficient deterrent. Dogfighters merely absorb these fines as part of the cost of doing business

It is important for lawmakers to understand that in order to prevent the cruel activity of dog fighting, we must look at the root cause motivation for conducting these fights, and that is simply the money generated by illegal gambling. HB 2416 is a good step in the right direction of curbing this illegal activity.

Below are thoughts and comments from the bill sponsor Rep. Jane Cunningham, concerning HB 2416 and the testimony provided by Casino Watch.

HB 1864…the new vehicle for removal of the loss limit

At the beginning of this legislative session Missouri State Representative Michael Parson introduced HB 1864.  This bill allows operators of excursion gambling boats to deposit checks on the next business day of the financial institution instead of within 24 hours.  There is no inherent need for the change in law because the Missouri Gaming Commission already addressed this issue through regulation.  MICS Chapter H, Standard 10.08 clearly states, “The Class A Licensee shall deposit, for collection, all negotiable instruments by the next banking day following receipt. Failure to do so shall be considered an extension of credit pursuant to 11 CSR 45-5.053 (N) and RSMo 313.812.9.”

There also appears to be no concerned party asking for such a change or demonstrating harm to the people of Missouri.  This, of course, naturally follows given there is a clear regulation prohibiting any potential transgression.

This begs the question: why, if there exists no inherent need for the law as it is already clearly addressed in regulation, and if there is no concerned party asking for a change, and if there are no gamblers being harmed, would a legislator attempt to pass legislation?

Could it be because the intention of the original sponsor of the bill was not to make this statutory change, but to use the bill as a vehicle for removing the $500 loss limit? The bill passed the house 138-13.  This is not a surprising vote because there was nothing controversial in the bill while in the house.

With one chamber cleared lets look at what’s happening with the bill in the Senate.  The bill was first referred to the Financial, Governmental Organization and Election committee (quite fitting considering the financial nature of the bill).  The following day the bill was re-referred to Senate Ways and Means.  Why the change?  With a quick glance of the members of this committee, it’s easy to conclude that group is far more anti-gambling then their counterparts in Ways and Means.  Then, in Ways and Means, Senator Scott Rupp’s bill, SB 1052, is added as an amendment.  You may recall that this bill seeks to remove the loss limit. Not surprising, this bill, like all gambling bills over the last few years, easily passed out of this committee to go to the Senate floor.

At this point the Senate sponsor of HB 1864 is non other than Senator Rupp.  Now we may never know the true answer to the question of the sponsor’s original intent but there is one thing we know for sure.  Rep. Parsons can choose who sponsors his bill and he allowed Senator Rupp to take control.  If Rep. Parsons did not want this bill to be about loss limits then he should not have allowed Senator Rupp to amend it and take control.

If Rep. Parsons is happy being grouped in with the pro gambling special interests then he has found the perfect way to do so.  If, however, he does not want to carry this scarlet letter then he needs to take immediate action to remove the loss limit amendment and support only the original intent of the legislation.  There is still time to do what is right and I hope he makes the correct decision.  It may be considerably tough for Rep. Parsons to clean this bill up considering he has taken special interest money from the casino industry.

The evidence seems to clearly demonstrate that this bill served no real purpose other than to become a vehicle for removal of the loss limit.  Please contact your Senator and Representative and ask them to reject HB 1864.

change the rules or I’m taking my ball with me

The Joplin Globe is reporting an activity that seems all too common in the gambling industry. They are pointing to Penn National Gaming as the latest in casino companies threatening to take their business elsewhere if the local government doesn’t change the rules in their favor. They explain:

The company seeking a contract to build a southeast Kansas casino wants the state to relax its rules. A law authorizing the casino last year requires a developer to invest at least $250 million in a hotel-and-casino complex. Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming Inc. wants to phase in its investment over an unspecified number of years.

Company President and Chief Operating Officer Timothy J. Wilmott told The Kansas City Star that Penn National wouldn’t rule out walking away from the project. The company is negotiating with the Kansas Lottery, which will own the new gambling. Lottery Executive Director Ed Van Petten said it’s not clear whether the state law allows the flexibility the company is seeking.

I would love to come back with an update that the Kansas Lottery let Penn National walk, but unfortunately that’s not how business is usually played when a casino is involved.