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Gambling on credit comes to Missouri next month

Ameristar Casino

Ameristar Casino in St. Charles.

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In less than a month, high rollers will no longer need wads of cash to gamble at casinos in Missouri.

The Missouri Gaming Commission voted Wednesday to approve rules to implement a new state law that will allow casino customers to gamble on credit. Legislators passed the law this year. The law, enacted without Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature, will take effect Aug. 28.

Missouri will be the 11th state to allow gamblers to establish a casino line of credit, known in the industry as a “marker.” Gaming commission officials prefer the term “counter checks.”

Whatever the nomenclature, the new Missouri law — modeled on those in other states — will allow gamblers to qualify for lines of credit of at least $10,000. There is no limit on the maximum amount.

Casinos will conduct credit checks — similar to those done by credit card companies for new cardholders — on gamblers who seek the no-interest credit line. The new Missouri law requires the amounts to be repaid within 30 days.

Casino credit legislation, long sought by the gaming industry, moved quietly through the Legislature this year as lawmakers addressed the issue in business terms: who would get the credit and why Missouri should allow it as a way to grow casino revenue. Missouri has a 21 percent tax on gaming revenue.

Ed Grewach, the gaming commission’s general counsel, said at least 11 of Missouri’s 13 licensed casinos planned to offer the credit accounts.

Though the rules approved Wednesday go into effect on Aug. 28, they are subject to public comment until Oct. 2. After a public hearing Oct. 6, the commission could vote to make the rules final at its meeting Oct. 29.

Gambling officials and casino executives in the St. Louis area said the accounts would be a convenience for out-of-town gamblers who didn’t want to make multiple trips to an ATM, write big checks or carry handfuls of cash.

Jeff Babinski, vice president and general manager of the Lumière Place casino on the St. Louis riverfront, said regular customers of major casino operators expected availability of credit at all of the owner’s properties. Tropicana Entertainment, which bought Lumière Place this year, offers the accounts at its casinos in Louisiana, New Jersey, Indiana and Mississippi. Adding Lumière Place to the list will draw more Tropicana customers to St. Louis, Babinski said.

Other potential account holders are visiting professional athletes in St. Louis when their teams play the Cardinals, Blues or Rams, he added.

“They won’t have to carry cash with them or get a cash advance on their credit cards,” Babinski said.

Ward Shaw, vice president and general manager of the Ameristar Casino, in St. Charles, said the accounts are “truly just a service convenience.”

In states that already allow credit accounts, which include Illinois, casinos have found that most users are out-of-town gamblers. Shaw said that at Ameristar’s casino in Lake Charles, La., for example, many account holders are vacationers.

“For our local existing customers, for some of them it may be a benefit,” he said. “But for most of these folks just visiting for a couple of hours during the day, having a credit isn’t likely.”

An industry analyst said the credit accounts are unlikely to provide much of a revenue boost to casinos in regional markets such as St. Louis. Robert Shore, of Union Gaming Group, in Las Vegas, said “VIP” players would continue to go to Las Vegas, which has the hotel suites, fine dining and shows not found elsewhere.

He added that Ameristar St. Charles and Pinnacle Entertainment’s River City Casino, in the Lemay area, “could modestly benefit from credit play given (that) their amenities seemingly attract higher-value players.”

The Missouri Baptist Convention offered the only opposition to the casino credit bill at a Senate hearing this spring. Convention lobbyist Kerry Messer asked legislators to tighten the bill’s focus and prevent casinos from filing suit to take a borrower’s home.

“They say it’s for high rollers, but they never design it for high rollers, ” Messer said. “This puts average people at risk.”

Don Hinkle, the organization’s director of public policy, said this week that “Missouri Southern Baptists have always opposed any gambling and certainly oppose any expansions of gambling because they hurt families, particularly women and children.”

He declined to discuss gambling on credit except to say “it’s bad law.”

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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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