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Gaming Opponents Meet at Capitol

April 23, 2002
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Christian groups from around the state gathered at the Capitol Tuesday to ask lawmakers to keep the gambling industry from expanding in Missouri.

"Gambling is a product that always seeks to expand, always seeks to shed its restrictions," said Tom Grey, director of the National Coalition of Legalized Gambling. "It comes in as one thing, with restrictions, and then becomes another."

The group included representatives from churches mostly in the St. Louis area, as well as Jefferson City and other smaller towns. The group said it had 3,000 petitions from people all over the state asking Gov. Bob Holden not to allow the institution of quick-draw electronic Keno games. In January, the Missouri Lottery Commission approved the games to start play June 1.

The religious group also opposed a bill moving through the legislature that would get rid of the state's loss limit. That limit currently prevents gamblers from losing more than $500 every two hours in Missouri casinos, but some lawmakers want to do away with the limit to raise more revenue.

Grey decried the gaming industry's push to get rid of the limit.

"All of a sudden you've now reached the point where you have the 800-pound gorilla," Grey said. "You've grown it with the losses of Missouri citizens. The addiction, the bankruptcy, the crime and corruption has fed [it], but still it's not enough."

Proponents of easing the restrictions said the provisions will raise more money for the state at a time when it is sorely needed.

Holden has declared the state to be in a budget crisis, and the Legislature is facing several proposals to dip into alternative revenue sources to plug the holes.

"They're entitled to their opinion," Holden said. "I said that the Keno games would help fund public education in this state."

One bill that would do away with the loss limit while also increasing taxes on casinos is expected to raise $85 million next year and $70 million in each of the following two years if it passes.

That bill still needs approval from both the House and Senate. A move that would have raised taxes on casinos without changing the loss limit was blocked by Senate leadership on Tuesday.