Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jefferson City's Gambling Reversal Divides Experts on Reasons Why

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jefferson City's Gambling Reversal Divides Experts on Reasons Why

Article excerpt

ACROSS THE MISSOURI River from the Capitol, a gravel plant, an airport and a sewage treatment facility sit on flood-prone bottomlands that stretch to limestone bluffs.

When Becker Gaming President Bruce Becker surveyed the ground three years ago, he saw a pot of gold. He imagined a dock site for the Capitol Queen, a gambling riverboat that might be the only wagering spot between St. Louis and Kansas City.

It turned out to be a mirage.

Jefferson City voters rejected the idea of riverboat gambling in a citywide election last Tuesday. It was an unusual referendum in that the state capital became the first Missouri city to reverse itself after approving gaming in an election in 1992.

The state Supreme Court will eventually answer the question of whether a city can "opt out" on riverboat gambling. But just in case the court says a city can't change its collective mind, the voters slammed the door on gambling in another way.

They also approved a proposition that Jefferson City's government, its officers and employees may not accept money or benefits from a riverboat casino. That means that even if a court says gambling may occur in Jefferson City, city government would have no incentive to form a partnership with a gambling company to approach the state Gaming Commission for a license to operate.

Tom Irwin, Gaming Commission executive director, said the gambling boat operators who have been licensed so far have approached the agency with "a united effort" with their host cities.

"The mayor is usually part of the agenda," said Irwin. "They have been unified in seeking to have a boat licensed in their community. I don't think the commission wants to ram something down somebody's throat."

With 22 license applications pending before the commission, Irwin says he gets telephone calls routinely from city officials from around the state asking when a decision will be made on an application.

But Jefferson City's mayor, Duane Schreimann, has not been one of them.

"I am very concerned about the effect that a riverboat would have on the local economy," Schreimann said. "Most people have a certain amount of disposable income. If that money is spent and lost on a riverboat, that means it won't be spent in a restaurant or in a clothing store or in another business. It has an enormous negative effect on the community."

Three years ago, when Missouri voters authorized riverboat gambling, Jefferson City voters approved the idea with a 60 percent majority. But during the April 1994 election to approve slot machines, 60 percent of the city's voters rejected the idea. The slot machines were re-proposed in an election a year ago and were approved in a statewide election. But they were again rejected in Jefferson City, this time by a narrow margin.

Last Tuesday, 57 percent of the voters rejected the riverboat gambling proposal. …

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