Jefferson City, Mo. — The Missouri Gaming Commission placed a moratorium Monday on new casinos until voters can decide this November on a ballot issue imposing a permanent casino cap and allowing existing facilities to win more money from bettors.
The commission's unanimous vote will, at a minimum, delay casinos sought in the Kansas City suburb of Sugar Creek and in Cape Girardeau. If the ballot measure passes, those casinos could be permanently scuttled.
An initiative financed by incumbent casinos Ameristar and Pinnacle Entertainment would cap the number of casinos in Missouri at their current level. It also would repeal a unique Missouri law limiting gamblers to losing no more than $500 every two hours and would raise the state casino tax to 21 percent - instead of 20 percent - of adjusted gross revenues.
The proposal is projected to generate up to $130 million annually for elementary and secondary education, plus millions more for higher education, local governments and other programs.
Supporters of the initiative said in early May that they had turned in far more than the number of petition signatures necessary to qualify for the Nov. 4 ballot. But those signatures still are being verified, and the secretary of state's office has not yet certified the measure for the ballot.
Because the initiative petition is pending, the Gaming Commission said it makes sense to hold off on approving any additional casinos. Otherwise, the commission said, it might be accused of rushing to expand gambling venues before a potential voter-imposed moratorium.
"We're going to wait to see what the vote is, rather than trying to beat them to a decision," said the commission's executive director, Gene McNary.
The moratorium would expire either upon the November vote or sooner, if the secretary of state determines the measure failed to make the ballot.