On Monday the Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) passed what looks like a well- intentioned moratorium on new casinos in Missouri. Virginia Young of the St Louis Post-Dispatch explained the move:
The freeze halts, for now, a pending application to add a casino in the Kansas City suburb of Sugar Creek. It also douses hopes of casino supporters in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and discourages talk of a casino at the Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis. Regulators said a freeze was needed because it appears likely that a measure capping the number of casinos will be on the general election ballot Nov. 4.
While it’s a positive move to see the MGC halt the unnecessary expansion of gambling, it’s important to understand the implications of such a situation. As explained in a prior report, the ballot measure in question does seek to cap the number of casinos, which would certainly be a benefit to those in Missouri, but it also seeks to remove the $500 loss limit. The casino industry and regulators alike have long tried to trade the number of casinos in the state for the removal of the loss limit. Because the November vote has a cap on casinos, the MGC will leverage the results to their advantage. For instance if the initiative passes then the loss limit has been removed and there would be a cap (a cap that could easily be lifted by the MGC with a few simple changes to the definition of licenses – which is being done now). If, however, the initiative fails, the MGC will say it proves citizens don’t want to restrict the number of casinos because they voted against the cap.
Motivation behind this strategy can be gained by looking at recent comments made by Gene McNary, the Executive Director of the MGC. Rick Alm of the Kansas City Star reported:
Gaming Commission director Gene McNary, who has pushed Wild Rose project, endorsed the moratorium. “It’s contrary to what we would like to see go forward,” he said of the ban. “But the fact is we’re regulators and we’re not operating in a vaccum.”
Casinos are coming in Kansas, and “the casino industry is going through a downturn,” he said. The moratorium language said the “Gaming Commission desires to be responsive to the wishes of the citizens…and will be guided by their vote in November.”
The Executive Director clearly indicated a moratorium is not what is wanted, but given they don’t operate in a vacuum, (i.e. outside of external political influence), they need to be guided by this vote. Past comments and actions by Mr. McNary also clearly indicate that a free market approach is what the MGC believes in regardless of expert testimony and analysis which demonstrates that the operative model in Missouri is not a free market.
Even though the MGC and the current casino industry wants you to believe that the initiative petition is the best option, there are better alternatives. We need to vote against the initiative petition to save the loss limit and then send a message to the MGC that gambling expansion through more casinos is not in the best interest of both the industry and most importantly the people and families of Missouri.
For more information on the state of gambling in Missouri and the effect of the loss limit, please read our Casino Watch Policy Briefs: