Two lawsuits challenging casino ballot measure

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Cape Girardeau businessman joined with a Jackson County lawmaker Thursday in a lawsuit designed to keep a measure capping the number of casinos in Missouri off the Nov. 4 ballot.

David Knight, owner of Ole Hickory Pits, along with Rep. Ray Salva, D-Sugar Creek, want a Jefferson City judge to block the measure, designated Proposition A by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. It is one of two lawsuits filed against the measure in Cole County Circuit Court. The second lawsuit was filed on behalf of two St. Louis-area residents and is backed by Casino Watch, a group that has consistently opposed the expansion of gambling in Missouri.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents the Yes for Schools First Coalition, said he believes Proposition A will survive any legal challenge and appear on the fall ballot.

Knight and Jim Riley, owner of Red Letter Communications, are partners in DREAMbig LLC, a company that has purchased or obtained options to purchase more than 20 acres along North Main Street as the site for a Cape Girardeau casino. The partners were searching for a casino company to develop the property when the Missouri Gaming Commission ordered a moratorium on new licenses in Missouri while Proposition A is pending.

Knight said the fact that two groups -- one opposed to casinos, one representing areas where developers hope to build new casinos -- filed lawsuits shows how flawed the ballot measure is. "I think we have a very good chance," Knight said. "I believe that if the laws mean anything, if what the law says as you read it means anything at all, we will win."

The new lawsuits will be the second attempt to scuttle the measure in court. Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce denied a claim made in the first lawsuit, filed by the same plaintiffs named in the new lawsuit supported by Casino Watch, which challenged the ballot title. Joyce ruled arguments that Proposition A includes more than one subject in violation of the Missouri Constitution could not be decided until the proposal was certified for the ballot. Carnahan approved the measure for the ballot Aug. 5.

"We don't believe this new lawsuit against Proposition A has any merit, and we're confident it will be rejected by the courts, just as their last lawsuit was rejected," Scott Charton, a spokesman for Yes for Schools First, said in a prepared statement.

Along with violating the constitutional ban on initiatives with more than one subject, the lawsuit filed on behalf of Knight and Salva charges that Proposition A:

* Takes away the power to permit gambling on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers granted to the Missouri Legislature by the constitution.

* Diverts gambling revenue dedicated to higher education to elementary and secondary schools.

* Violates the constitution's prohibition on granting an "exclusive right, privilege or immunity" to a corporation, individual or association.

* Violates the constitution's Bill of Rights by denying people the ability to "enjoy the gains of their own industry" by blocking new casino licenses.

* Violates state law by failing to mention that some local governments could lose revenue because no casino will be allowed in their jurisdiction.

* Violates state law by failing to include a notice that it repeals by inference a law granting the Missouri Gaming Commission control over the number of licenses granted to any city or county.

Knight is represented by attorney Donald Dickerson of Cape Girardeau; Salva is represented by attorneys C. Robert Buckley and Deborah J. Blakely of Independence.

The lawsuits raise no new issues, Hatfield said. Knight's lawsuit uses every possible argument and Hatfield said none of them has merit.

"This is an attempt to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks," Hatfield said. "The secretary of state rejected these arguments, and I don't think the courts are going to go along, either."

Along with the cap on licenses, Proposition A would repeal the loss limit. The measure increases the tax on casino proceeds, dedicates the new revenue to public schools and requires an annual audit to make sure the new funding does not replace current spending for schools.

While Carnahan and State Auditor Susan Montee are named as defendants in the lawsuit by Knight, Hatfield said he intends to intervene. Carnahan approved the ballot measure over objections raised in a letter by Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson that are similar to the issues raised in the lawsuit filed by Knight.

In a reply to Knudtson, Carnahan said each issue raised by Knudtson was considered before approving the measure. After a thorough review, she said, the objections were rejected.

In a news release issued Thursday, Casino Watch said Proposition A not only covers two subjects but includes two subjects that have different purposes. "Missourians should have a fair opportunity to vote for a single subject and not be disenfranchised by being forced to choose between multiple subjects," said Evelio Silvera, executive director of Casino Watch.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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