Cape Girardeau City Council asked to let voters decide on bringing casino to town

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Cape Girardeau City Council was told Monday night that it should seek a vote on establishing a casino in Cape Girardeau, instead of deciding without a news vote just based on voter approval 17 years ago.

Doug Austin, a retiree who has served on several city committees including Vision 2020, former councilman Melvin Gateley and retired pastor Paul Kabo urged the council to send the issue to voters again before making a commitment to a casino developer.

On Monday, the council assented to city manager Scott Meyer sending a letter of interest to the Missouri Gaming Commission for the lone casino license that will become available July 1. The city letter notes the city's interest but puts caveats on the interest based on compatibility with current development plans as well as other issues that must be resolved.

But for Austin and the others, the first issue to resolve is whether residents still want a casino.

In June 1993, voters by a 53-47 percent margin rejected gambling in Cape Girardeau. In November that year, at a second vote, gambling was approved by a 52-48 percent margin.

"We do not feel we should proceed with an item that could possibly change the entire character of Cape, based on a vote that was taken 17 years ago and passed by a slim margin," Austin said.

Asked by Ward 3 Councilwoman Debra Tracy if they intended to circulate petitions, Austin said that was not their plan.

"We think you are perfectly qualified to make that decision," he said.

Austin added that he believed 4,000 signatures could be gathered in six weeks if necessary. A petition containing the signatures of registered voters equal to 15 percent of the vote cast at the last election for governor is needed to force a vote.

After the meeting, Mayor Harry Rediger said he doesn't see the need for another vote but would welcome a petition drive to decide the issue.

The gaming commission is seeking to replace the President Casino, owned by Pinnacle Entertainment. It is the only casino with a boat that is in an actual river channel, and the U.S. Coast Guard has declined to certify it for passengers beyond July 1. After a debate over whether Pinnacle should be allowed to move the license or the boat or both to a new location, the commission and Pinnacle agreed that the license would be surrendered.

Only 13 licensed casinos may operate in Missouri. A law approved by voters in 2008 imposed the limit at the same time it took away loss limits for gamblers and increased the taxes on casino profits.

A call to the gaming commission didn't provide a lot of guidance for the city, Meyer told the council. The staff member he spoke to told him that the commission is moving quickly to replace the President and generate new revenue for the cash-strapped state.

"They are trying to figure out how many communities are interested," Meyer said. "They are trying to figure out how big their universe is before they go to the next step."

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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