Missouri's gambling-loss limits feel pressure from outside

Monday, June 11, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- A protection to keep gamblers from losing more than $500 in two hours remains in place in Missouri, even though it's feeling some pressure from nearby states that don't have such limits.

The $500 loss limit is a unique aspect of Missouri gambling. It was threatened during the recent legislative session, but survived with the help of maneuvering by antigambling lawmakers.

The loss limit is designed to limit the money a gambler can spend during any two-hour gambling session, but several casino officials say it makes it difficult to compete with other states and keeps high-rollers away from Missouri.

The Missouri Gaming Commission estimates revenue would increase by more than $500 million a year if the law were repealed, resulting in more than $110 million in taxes and fees for state and local governments.

Antigambling advocates say Missouri's loss limit needs to be protected.

Mark Andrews of the antigambling group Casino Watch says loss limits should remain in place. Andrews sees the loss limits as a promise that was made to voters to get gambling approved.

"If you want to gamble in Missouri, there are limits," Andrews said.

But others note that Kansas and Illinois have no such policies in place.

Kansas passed a law allowing for some state-owned casinos as soon as next year, and they won't have loss limits.

The Missouri Gaming Association, the industry's trade group, says the impact on revenue could be as high as $209 million. That would be a significant part of the Kansas City, Mo., market, whose four casinos raked in $705 million in revenue during the last fiscal year, according to gaming commission statistics.

Missouri's Gaming Commission for years has urged the legislature to repeal the provision, arguing it is costly to enforce, hurts the state's ability to compete and does nothing to prevent problem gambling.

Opponents to loss limits hoped to dislodge the policy this year in exchange for a tax increase on casinos that would have raised tens of millions of dollars for the state's Smart Start Scholarship Fund.

But by the time the measure worked through the legislature, the proposed tax increase had grown so high that the industry withdrew its support.

In St. Louis, a new $495 million casino complex called LumiDere Place plans to open this year.

Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. will face stiff competition from the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, Ill., where a new casino is slated to open this summer. As in Kansas, that casino does not have loss limits.

Pinnacle developed its project based on loss limits remaining in place. But without them, the company said it could substantially increase its marketing to high-stakes gamblers in other states.

Pinnacle Chief Executive Daniel Lee explained the company would spend about $5,000 on first-class tickets, a limousine, several nights at a luxury hotel, meals and maybe tickets to a football or baseball game to bring in a high-stakes gambler.

That gambler would have to lose $10,000 to make the numbers work, Lee said. With loss limits, that gambler would have to sit through 40 hours worth of gambling sessions.

"That's just not going to happen," Lee said.

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