Opponents of casino expansion try airwaves

Saturday, July 17, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Opponents of an amendment to allow a casino in southwest Missouri are rolling out television and radio ads that play on fears of expanding gambling.

The TV spot is to begin airing Monday in the Kansas City and St. Louis markets to counter the ads from casino supporters that have run statewide for a few weeks. The radio spot will run only in St. Louis, organizers said.

Missourians will vote Aug. 3 on a constitutional amendment that would allow a casino in Rockaway Beach along the White River, a few miles from Branson. The Missouri Constitution now limits casinos to towns along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Supporters of the casino project say it will revitalize the town's economy, but critics fear it will hurt the Branson area's family-friendly image.

The opponents' campaign, called Show Me You Care, displayed the radio and TV spots on its Web site Friday.

The television ad opens with a child spinning on a merry-go-round, and text flashes across the screen as the merry-go-round spins faster and faster. Against the sounds of a roulette wheel, the ad states that if more gambling is allowed in the state, it will open the door to slot machines in grocery and convenience stores around Missouri.

"If Amendment 1 wins, Missouri families lose. Stop the spread of casino gambling," an announcer states dramatically.

Actually, the amendment limits the expansion to gambling facilities to Rockaway Beach and does not allow for slots in grocery or convenience stores.

"The ads are extremely misleading. They're trying to scare Missouri voters," said Cynthia McCafferty, spokeswoman for Missourians for Economic Opportunity, which supports the amendment.

Show Me You Care spokeswoman Lisa Rau responds: "It's only, we believe, a matter of time before it goes to the next community and the next community and the next community. This is not just about Rockaway Beach. This is about the expansion of gambling in the state of Missouri."

The radio ad has the same basic message, with circus music in the background and the announcer sarcastically boasting about what he says a casino could bring, from increased crime to problem gamblers.

Both sides are pouring big money into the amendment campaign. The opponents are backed largely by the family that owns Silver Dollar City in Branson, while supporters are financed by the businessmen and company that would develop the casino if voters approve the ballot measure and the project is approved by the Missouri Gaming Commission.

Casino supporters have raised about $10 million to opponents' $1 million, according to campaign finance reports released Thursday.

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