Now that the Missouri Gaming Commission has chosen Cape Girardeau as its preferred site for the state’s 13th — and supposedly last — “riverboat” casino, the next question is how long it will take the Legislature to remove the 13-casino cap that voters imposed in 2008.
If we were the gambling sort, we’d set the over-and-under at no more than five years — and take the under.
After all, if there’s one thing Missouri has learned about the legalized gambling industry in the 18 years since it came to this state, it’s that the industry’s appetite and ambitions are insatiable.
At first, the concept was quaint little riverboats catering to tourists who wouldn’t be allowed to lose more than $500 in any two-hour excursion. Today’s reality is casino floors packed with slot machines and a few table games, floors built atop stationary barges floated in ponds, no loss limits and a battle among casinos for the same customers, most of whom are not tourists.
The saturation of the customer base in St. Louis and Kansas City led the gaming commission to award what had been a St. Louis city casino license to the good folks of Cape Girardeau, who apparently are laboring under the impression that their new Isle of Capri casino will revitalize their downtown. Good luck with that.
Casinos have very little spillover economic development effect. Most people come, play the slots, eat inside the casino complex and leave, lighter by an average of $63 each in gambling losses.
Cape will get a solid economic benefit from 500 new jobs, along with tax and admission revenue that accrue to both the state and the “dockside” communities. The state expects to reap $20.7 million in revenue from the Cape casino. If Isle of Capri’s casino in Cape Girardeau performs as well as the similar-sized property the company runs in Boonville, Cape would see about $3.7 million a year in added revenue.
That’s money that won’t be going to St. Louis. In a sense, that’s not fair, because until last summer, the casino license that’s going to Cape Girardeau belonged to the President Casino on the Admiral. The city, in effect, traded the President Casino for the larger, grander Lumiére Place uphill at Laclede’s Landing. It lost its double-down bet on keeping the 13th license for a new casino south of the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
The gaming commission — with the enthusiastic support of existing casinos — decided that a new casino in St. Louis would “cannibalize” business from the four Missouri casinos already in the region. We figure casino operators can take care of themselves, but for the state, the Cape casino was the right decision.
A side benefit: Great Rivers Greenways has a deal with the Koman family, the developers of the city’s Chain of Rocks proposal, to buy 12 acres that now won’t be used for a casino. It’s not $11 million in new casino revenue for the city, but added trails and green space is a plus.
But if our bet is right and the Legislature decides that 13 casinos is not enough, the city may want to get back in the bidding. Soon there might be added competition from Illinois that Missouri legislators may feel obliged to meet.
The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved expanding to 14 casinos from state’s current level of nine. None of the five new projects would be in the Metro East; the closest is 214 miles away in Danville.
But one of them would be a massive, land-based operation in Chicago that could be a magnet for high-rollers. Racetracks, like Fairmount Park, would be allowed to add slot machines. And the Argosy Casino in Alton and the Casino Queen in East St. Louis each would be allowed to expand its number of gambling positions by about 50 percent.
All of that is new competition for Missouri. The Illinois bill still must get through the House, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed doubts about it. But Illinois’ fiscal situation is so dire that passage is a good bet. St. Louis shouldn’t take its money off the table just yet.