Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Missouri May Put Some Floating Casinos in Dry Dock Next Month, the State Votes on Whether to Allow Gambling on 'Boats in Moats.' Series: Election for A New Century -1998

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Missouri May Put Some Floating Casinos in Dry Dock Next Month, the State Votes on Whether to Allow Gambling on 'Boats in Moats.' Series: Election for A New Century -1998

Article excerpt

Of all the watercraft in America, this one on the banks of the Missouri River has to be one of the strangest.

It has no motor. It sits on an artificial pond. Even its two-hour cruises are figments of the imagination, since the boat never moves. Even if it did, it couldn't go anywhere because its pond doesn't connect to the river.

Next month, Missouri voters will decide whether this $320 million structure - the Riverport Casino Center in suburban St. Louis - and others like it qualify as riverboats. Their decision, closely watched around the United States, will determine whether the gambling industry gathers a new head of steam here in Missouri or runs smack into a legal sand bar. The stakes are high. Ten of the state's 15 riverboat casinos, employing about 10,000 people, are permanently moored "boats in moats." They could close because the state Supreme Court ruled last year that they don't qualify as riverboats "upon" the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, as the state constitution requires. But if Missourians agree to amend the constitution to include boats in moats, gambling could spread. "If people go to the polls in November and casinos win, they're going to be emboldened," says John Loudon, a St. Louis-area state representative. Efforts to lift other restrictions on casino gambling are likely to intensify. So far, polls show a dead heat between supporters and opponents of the amendment, known locally as Amendment 9. Supporters are mounting an expensive campaign to get their message out. "It's a question of fairness," says Michael Brown, media coordinator for Missourians for Fairness and Jobs, a casino- financed campaign. Casinos "did everything right." Indeed, after Missourians voted to allow limited riverboat gambling only "upon" the Missouri and the Mississippi, the state legislature enacted its own set of rules to determine what that meant. The language included references to artificial basins within 1,000 feet of the main channel of the rivers. The casinos and the gaming commission interpreted that to mean that boats in moats did qualify. And in mid-1996, with the commission's approval, the first moated casinos opened their doors. "We tried to do our best to make it look like two boats moored at a wharf," says Larry Buck, vice president and general manager of Players Island Casino at Riverport. But the state Supreme Court would have none of it, ruling that Missouri's constitution didn't allow a "boat in a moat" to be a casino. "People voted for boats!" says Mark Andrews, driving up Riverport's parking ramp to catch a glimpse of the Missouri River in the distance. "It's not a boat." Mr. Andrews chairs a grass-roots campaign that opposes Amendment 9 called Show Me the River (a play on the state's legendary "show me" skepticism). …

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