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Push to expand gambling underway in Missouri and Illinois

Push to expand gambling underway in Missouri and Illinois

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Slot machines

Slot machines at a St. Louis-area casino are shown in this file photo.

JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri and Illinois residents soon could have thousands of new slot machines clanging and blinking in their midst.

In Missouri, two lawmakers are pushing plans to legalize video gambling in bars and fraternal organizations as a way to generate money for education.

In Illinois, Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, has introduced a proposal to allow slot machines at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, a car racing track located just minutes from downtown St. Louis.

In both states, the proposals would allow video gambling in establishments where it has previously been prohibited.

In Missouri, the legislation would allow as many as five video gambling machines in taverns and restaurants and as many as 10 machines for benevolent organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The state would then collect a split of the money generated by the machines.

Missouri Rep. Bart Korman, R-Warrenton, is sponsoring one of the measures. He said the revenue could help pad the state’s checkbook.

“When you look at the budget situation we have, I think it’s something we need to have a conversation about,” Korman said.

In particular, he’d like to see revenue generated by the slot machines to go toward schools.

“The cost of busing is an important issue in rural areas,” Korman said. “Student transportation has been cut year after year.”

A similar proposal sponsored by Missouri Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, would earmark 35 percent of the receipts generated by video gambling for higher education.

The legislation is similar to a measure approved in Illinois in 2009; it didn’t get underway until 2012.

Since then, Illinois has seen an explosion in the number of establishments offering video gambling.

After four years, the number of businesses with at least one terminal tops 5,700. The total number of machines is nearing 25,000, according to statistics compiled by the Illinois Gaming Commission.

Video gambling generated $277 million for Illinois in 2016. Local governments received $55.4 million.

Bringing a mini-casino to the Gateway racetrack would add to that total.

Clayborne’s proposal amends Illinois’ video gaming act to allow up to 200 terminals at a licensed motorsports park. Gateway’s facilities already include a drag strip, a 1.25-mile superspeedway, a 1.6-mile road course and tracks for go-karts and off-road vehicles.

Gateway spokeswoman Susan Ryan said the proposal would help diversify the facility’s income stream.

“The long-term success of this business requires a diverse revenue base including non-racing entertainment options such as festivals, charity events, private parties, concerts and gaming,” Ryan said in a statement.

Clayborne, whose proposal has not been scheduled for a debate, could not immediately be reached for comment. His proposal is separate from a larger gambling proposal that was floated as part of a package designed to end Illinois’ long-running budget stalemate.

Under that proposal, Illinois would get new casinos in Chicago and its south suburbs, Waukegan, Carterville, Rockford and Danville.

The casino industry in both states is primed to fight the expansion of slots.

The Illinois Casino Gaming Association is opposing Clayborne’s idea, primarily because it could lure gamblers away from the Casino Queen, located less than 5 miles away in East St. Louis.

“It’s just such a big proposal and the Casino Queen is so close by,” said association executive director Tom Swoik.

The Missouri Gaming Association, which represents 13 casinos, opposes the expansion of video gambling in Missouri because it also would cut into the casino market, executive director Mike Winter told the Post-Dispatch.

Illinois’ experience offers evidence that casinos have been affected by the explosion of video gambling.

In December 2007, for example, Illinois’ fleet of riverboats was drawing 1.3 million visitors. A decade later, that number had dropped to fewer than 950,000 visitors. Receipts also have dropped in the past decade.

Illinois’ law also has led to a new breed of gambling parlors.

Business owners have launched chains of so-called gambling “cafes” hoping to draw customers who wouldn’t otherwise go to bars. A chain called Lucy’s Place, for example, was originally designed to attract women over 40. Other similar operations are named Nikki’s, Dotty’s and Penny’s.

In Missouri, it remains unclear if Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, supports an expansion of gambling. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he opposed gambling revenue as a way to fix the state budget. But he won’t block the proposal from coming to the Senate floor for a debate.

“I’m not a fan of legalizing gambling to plug any hole for anything,” Richard said. “The Senate is supposed to be for open and fair discussion, so that’s what I try to do, regardless of my support or not.”

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