“Viva St. Charles” Doesn’t Have the Same Bite … Yet
I’ve wanted to blog about this for a while, but the opportunity never really presented itself as well as I would have liked. While this is ordinarily not the kind of problem that would hurt my hypothalamus, the end of my time here at the Show-Me Institute is drawing nigh and I feel like articles such as this one are going to have to be my gateway.
As reported in the above-linked article from the Post-Dispatch, Missouri casinos are yet again attempting to repeal the state’s unique $500-every-two-hours loss limit. However, instead of trying to get the issue repealed through legislative means (as they try to do almost every fall, only leading to the same ineffective result) the casinos, led by Pinnacle Entertainment (operators of the new Lumiere Place development on the St. Louis riverfront and a forthcoming development in south St. Louis) and Ameristar Casinos are collecting signatures outside of their gaming floors in an attempt to put the issue in front of voters on the November ballot through the initiative process. In regard to this story, I have three comments:
1. Loss limits are ridiculous. Missouri is the only state with operating casinos that has one, and it provides a direct incentive for citizens of the state’s two largest metropolitian areas to cross state lines to bet bigger elsewhere (Illinois has a large gambling infrastructure, while Kansas is in the process of wooing casinos from such big players as the Las Vegas Sands and Harrah’s). While there may be limited evidence that a loss limit decreases tourism, is definitely doesn’t help put Missouri on the map as a gaming destination (after all, if the poorest county in the nation can be turned into a tourist destination, I think that big-time gaming might have a little bit of an effect). For a state to allow gambling … but only so much gambling … is a moral conundrum that confuses me to this day, and should be remedied at some point in the future.
2. That being said, offering the petition under the title of the "Schools First Initiative" is not the way that I would suggest going about getting this issue on the ballot. Yes, it is a good thing that tax dollars raised from gambling losses go toward education, but much like everything else on a casino floor, this seems a little too deceptive for my taste. If you want this on the ballot, title it "Repeal the Loss Limit." This would, effectively, be the perfect initiative. If enough support can come from patrons of these casinos to put an issue that they honestly understand in front of the Missouri public, so be it. That’s what the process is for. Granted, with that title, it would probably lose pretty handily, but I’d lay the odds at 7-1 and you can take the action if you want it.
3. If I ran the casinos, I wouldn’t be treating this as a fight for school funding, but as a fight to protect the privacy of casino patrons. In Missouri, before you enter a gaming floor, you must first sign up for The Card. Usually these cards have fun names like "Privileges Plus," "Star Awards," or "Total Rewards," and I suppose if you sit in front of a slot machine for long enough you’ll get a free trip to the buffet from them, but all they really exist to do is to track your losses. Cards must be presented to enter the casino, to purchase chips, and to make any bet. While privacy has never really been extended very far at casinos (thanks to the Eye in the Sky) lines to sign up for these cards can be massive, and they represent yet another way that your entertainment choices are being restricted.
Will loss limits ever be repealed? Who knows. But gambling in Missouri isn’t going away, and if we’re going to endure all of the problems that casinos bring to a region, we might as well not restrict ourselves from the benefits as well.