This month’s meeting of the Missouri Gaming Commission took place in Jefferson City at the Missouri State Trooper Association.
The meeting’s agenda was quite routine with a handful of Hearing Officer recommendations on past disciplinary actions, the consideration of new disciplinary actions, fine settlement agreements, and a special presentation from Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. concerning their South St. Louis County casino project.
Highlights from the meeting include two disciplinary actions taken against casinos. First, during the consideration of new disciplinary actions, Harrah’s North Kansas City was given a $5,000.00 fine for the use of a bad deck during a poker tournament which was not caught by internal controls. Second, during the consideration of settlement agreements, Ameristar Casino St. Charles was originally fined $100,000.00 by the Gaming Commission last year for allowing a patron to act as and assume the role of a gaming official by letting the patron operate and run the stick at a craps table. Ameristar did take the case before a hearing officer but then chose to forgo further hearings by taking responsibility for the violation and settling the matter for $90,000.00.
An examination of Gaming Commission meeting minutes over the past year, while the commission has been under the direction of Executive Director Gene McNary, shows an increase in the number of settlement agreements that have been considered by the commission. While there has been an increase in the amount of discussion concerning the procedure for issuing and appealing fines from the Gaming Commission, there is little to no evidence that the Commissioners themselves have been abusive or out-of-line with the fines that have been recently levied.
However prudent and justified a fine from the Commissioners may be, it seems that Mr. McNary is more than happy to offer a discount in the form of a settlement agreement to the casino industry. How effective then is a fine if the casino knows it can always count on a discount. Has Mr. McNary created an environment where these fines, instead of being punitive and correcting a violation, become watered-down to the point where it simply has become the cost of doing business in Missouri?
The next Missouri Gaming Commission will be on May 26, 2008.