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Archive for Thursday, April 26, 2007

Race is on

April 26, 2007

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In the competitive gambling game, it's tempting for states to compromise their principles to ensure their financial gain.

The race for gambling revenue apparently is on.

The Missouri Senate has approved a gambling expansion package that it hopes will help it compete with planned casinos across the state line in Kansas. The biggest change will be repeal of a state law that cuts off casino patrons who lose $500 within two hours. Missouri reportedly is the only state to have such a limit, which lawmakers fear may put the state's casinos at a disadvantage when new casinos open in Kansas.

Never mind that the $500 limit was part of the original ballot measure in which Missouri voters approved casino gambling in 1992. Lawmakers are more interested in revenue than in keeping faith with voters. To help solidify that revenue, the measure the Senate approved Tuesday also adds a new 4.25 percent tax on most casinos. The original proposal was for a 1 percent tax, but the figure kept rising in an effort to buy the support of gambling opponents. The new revenue will go to provide scholarships for Missouri college students.

Because it is worried about losing gambling revenue, Missouri is willing to compromise on some of its principles. The losing limit was put in place to help protect some people who didn't have even $500 to lose at a casino. That provision probably was important to many Missouri voters who feared the social consequences of allowing casinos in the state.

This interstate gambling competition may be a warning to Kansans as they jump into the casino game.

Unlike Missouri lawmakers, Kansas legislators figured out a way to institute casino gambling under the state's lottery law so they didn't need the approval of Kansas voters. Kansas also has no losing limit, like Missouri has.

But Kansas legislators have high hopes for the revenue that state-owned casinos will produce for the state. If that revenue falls short of predictions, what steps will Kansas lawmakers be willing to take to shore up the state's profits?

Gambling opponents have legitimate concerns about the potential for unethical business dealings and the fact that gambling preys disproportionately on low-income people who should be making better use of their limited funds. Those issues are important to some, but, as Missouri is illustrating, as the appetite for money grows or the source of that money is threatened, lawmakers are willing to cut some ethical corners to ensure their financial gain.

A primary argument for approving casino gambling in Kansas was to bring back dollars that were being spent in neighboring states. That competition from other states, however, won't just go away, and it's up to Kansans to make sure the state doesn't stoop too low in its efforts to reap its share of the gambling revenue.

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