More state gambling?

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

One of the items on ballots across Missouri in the Aug. 3 primary election will be a proposed constitutional amendment to allow riverboat gambling in Rockaway Beach, Mo., a once-thriving tourist destination on the White River that long ago was overshadowed by Branson, Mo., and its glittering, big-name shows.

Both Branson and Rockaway Beach are near Springfield, Mo., in the heart of a region of the state that could be described as both politically and religiously conservative.

Supporters of the amendment say Rockaway Beach needs an economic boost that a casino would provide. And, they argue, a new casino would generate millions of dollars for the state's coffers as well.

Some of the power players in Branson are opposed to the expansion of casinos, which currently are limited to the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. These opponents are worried about the family atmosphere associated with entertainment in the town made famous by the Shepherd of the Hills. Branson is the kind of place you don't have to worry about visiting with your grandmother or your grandchildren. And there are a number of Branson stalwarts who would like to keep it that way.

Another ballot issue may have some effect statewide on the Rockaway Beach casino plan: a companion proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages. It's considered likely that this amendment could bring out voters who are drawn to the polls by religious conviction and might be more likely to oppose gambling in general.

The morality of gambling, however, does not seem to be a major factor in Southwest Missouri, where sides are being drawn up on the casino issue. Gambling has become so commonplace throughout the nation that hardly anyone makes mention of a sin factor.

Neither is the sleaze factor much of a component in the gambling debate. Even some of those who anticipated the worst of organized crime and prostitution when casinos were first approved in Missouri have to admit that the state's gambling boats are mostly high-class and well-policed operations.

Missourians need to familiarize themselves with these two issues -- more riverboat gambling and same-sex marriages -- before they go to the polls in August. They should be prepared to cast their ballots based on informed reasons rather than knee-jerk reactions.

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