Does Missouri need another casino?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dear Editor, (Would appreciate your publishing this as an Op Ed Piece)

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

A few years ago the casino people promised us that if we would only approve casinos in Missouri, they would provide us romantic riverboats floating in the moonlight. Now we have glitzy landlocked casinos somewhere near a river.

They agreed to a $500-per-two-hour ($6,000-per-24- hour)loss limits if we would approve casinos. Once allowed in, they never relented until they got rid of the loss limits.

They promised us a lot more money to education. Bottom line, very little if any additional money has gone to Missouri education from our citizens losing money in the casinos.

The late U.S. Senator Paul Simon from Illinois saw what gambling expansion was doing in the country. On the floor of the U.S. Senate Senator Simon noted the recent suicide by a respected member of his mother's church, a lady who became addicted following innocent visits to the local casino. In that context, he spoke to his fellow Senators, saying: "What should not be ignored by Congress and the American people is that we have a problem on our hands." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 1, 1995)

This resulted in a federal gambling commission which in time recommended a slowdown or moratorium on casino expansion. The casinos didn't slow down ... except when the local citizens insisted on it ... before casinos would get established locally.

And in that same U.S. Senate speech, Senator Simon said further: "...political power propels the spread of gambling. In Illinois ... lobbyists for the gaming industry include 'a former governor, a former attorney general, two former U.S. attorneys, a former director of the state police, a prominent former judge, a former mayor of Chicago and at least seven former state legislators ...'" The lesson was clear. In that case, those public officials helpful to the casinos can expect a payoff, perceived by the public to be little more that delayed bribes.

The casino pattern for "getting their foot in the door" in a region includes baiting public officials with the promises of all kinds of big money if the next casino is permitted. Strapped for needing more money to pay for government, and supported by other groups reaping the short-term benefits, public servants too frequently fall for it. But the fact is that when casinos get established locally, they suck tens of millions out of the local economy (most of which goes out of state), money no longer available for legitimate products and services.

Public officials are often jubilant over the idea of casinos sapping every dollar they can from those same citizens whose welfare they are committed to protect. We saw it recently upon the license approval of the new "River City Casino" in St. Louis. It was anticipated to produce $200 million a year ... more than $500,000 a day ... in gambling losses of the people to River City. Public official and the casino people -- in an apparent "de facto" partnership celebrated together!

For years we have known from experience and from studies (such as in the St. Louis Law Journal, Winter, 1995, by Professor John Warren Kindt of the University of Illinois) that when gambling options increase in a region, so do the related problems: more compulsive gamblers, more crime, more thoughts of suicides by the inevitable numbers of area people who become addicted (with some actually committing suicides), more embezzlements, more corruption of public officials... I could go on.

Major media outlets in an area anticipate and experience big incomes from casinos advertising accounts. At the same time, the mountains of evidence regarding the negative results from localized casinos is typically under-researched and under-reported by those same media outlets.

Before casinos came to the St. Louis region, there were a couple of small Gamblers Anonymous chapters. Now in that same area there are more that 20 Gamblers Anomyous chapters.

A subtle and usually overlooked casino negative: many problem gamblers embezzle money from anybody else's cash they can access to steal the money. That stolen money is frequently identified by the ATM withdrawals of the thieves who visit the casinos. With casinos thus identified as receiving the stolen money, I asked one victim about the $200,000 embezzled from him and his wife, which destroyed their small business and nearly their lives. "How much of the identified stolen money did the casinos return to you?" The answer: "Not one penny!"

And since Missouri governmental agencies got their cut of the identified stolen money from the casinos, how much of the stolen money did government return to my friends, the victims. Same answer: "Not one Penny!"

Whoever thought we would need to look to President Putin of Russia as a wise example and role model. In recent years Putin and the Russian government closed more than 2,200 Russian casinos!

Let's hope that the Missouri Gaming Commission looks out for the best interests of the citizens of Missouri with an emphatic statement and decision: "No more new casinos in Missouri."


Rev. Dr. Harold H. Hendrick, Florissant, MO

Director of Public Affairs of Bott Radio Network and radio talk show host.

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