As the Democrat steamroller under the direction of Bob Griffin brought gambling to Missouri in 1992, voters and legislators wisely put restrictions on just how far our State would go down the casino road. Everyone knew about the strong tendency toward addiction and suicide connected with gambling, along with the problems of crime, political corruption, and economic devastation for families. So it made sense to insist on tight controls. To the credit of concerned Democrats and Republicans, we ended up with some very wise safeguards.
But look at what has happened in twelve years. Almost all of the original restrictions have vanished into thin air. Only the $500 Loss Limit remains, and even it appears now to be on the chopping block! But this time it is the Republicans who hold the ax. Isn't it ironic, that the Democrat steamroller of 1992 is now about to be upstaged in 2005 by a Republican freight train. Oh, it hasn't happened yet but keep a close watch. In reality, the train has already left the station and is gaining speed every day.
The chief architect of gambling expansion in the newly elected Republican powerhouse is Senator Charlie Shields, the majority leader. His "first priority" agenda includes a new expansion of gambling in Missouri centered around the removal of the $500 Loss Limit that will net the Government coffers $100 million, and talk around Jefferson City would indicate that he has more than enough votes for passage! (His hometown newspaper last month reported on his interest in taxing lap dances and sexually explicit material as well. We all know that higher taxes legitimize an activity, so where does this lead us?)
Think about it! For the first time since 1922, Republicans control the House, Senate and the Governor's Office; and a top priority is to bring to our State the largest expansion of gambling in our history? Something is wrong with this picture. Is this why voters elected the Republicans to run things this time around?
On August 3, 2004 Missouri voters turned out in record numbers to say NO to more gambling. At their State Convention Republicans ratified a strong anti gambling statement in their Party Platform. The idea that lawmakers would encourage their own citizens to lose lots of money so government could pocket more taxes was clearly thought to be repugnant, truly a bad piece of public policy. Add to that recent information from the Missouri Gaming Commission that more of our families than ever are seeking help from addiction problems, and it makes us seriously ask the new Republican leadership what is going on? Could the large casino contributions to some Republican campaigns in the last election cycle be having a persuasive effect?
Don't get me wrong. Not all Republicans are in support of this agenda. In fact many of them refused to take any contributions from casinos just because they are so firmly against government sponsored gambling. These legislators have a strong track record of support for preserving the $500 Loss Limit and should be thanked for their consistent stand. What we have to be concerned about is a newly energized leadership that may be ready to move away from traditional family values.
Mr. Shields tries to sugar coat his proposal, making it palatable to anti casino legislators, by suggesting a moratorium on more casinos in the State. But that is exactly what the present casino companies want, no new competition. Removing the Loss Limit would cause a massive expansion of gambling in Missouri, the equivalent of 3 new casinos!
Consider these consequences if the $500 Loss Limit is removed:
1. A problem gambler will have no slow down effect in place and will be able to gamble away the family home or entire bank account in one day.
2. High stakes gambling will be encouraged which brings in mob activity and prostitution demanded by "high rollers".
3. The laundering of drug money (which cannot be done currently in Missouri due to the loss limit) will become a reality. This will draw the criminal element to our State who want to launder illegally gotten money.
4. For Mr. Shields' proposed legislation to bring in an additional $100 million in taxes, Missouri gamblers will need to lose an additional $500 million. Can our families and our economy afford to take a hit of this magnitude?
5. Our number of pathological gambler families (currently 60,000) will increase to even more unmanageable proportions.
Can this freight train be stopped? It doesn't seem that Senator Shields can be stopped since he controls what bills come to the Senate floor. However, it is still possible for caring Democrats and Republicans to vote against his proposal or others similar to it. Of course, this will only take place if the people of Missouri rise up and let their voice be heard loud and clear during this legislative session. Yes, time is of the essence.
Heres what you can do. Call and write every State Representative and State Senator you know and tell them to PRESERVE THE $500 LOSS LIMIT, period. Especially call and write Governor Matt Blunt and the Republican leadership and give them this message.
Governor, Matt Blunt
Missouri Capitol Building, Room 216, Jefferson City, MO 65102
Phone: 573-751-3222 Fax:
Speaker of the House, Rod Jetton
State Capitol, 201 West Capitol Ave., Jefferson City, MO 65101
Phone: 573-751-2000 Fax: 573-526-9804
President Pro Tem, Michael Gibbons
State Capitol Building, Room 326, Jefferson City, MO 65101
Phone: 573-751-2000 Fax: 573-751-8727
Mark Andrews is Chairman of Casino Watch, Inc., the only Missouri organization solely dedicated to protecting families from gambling expansion. www.casinowatch.org