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Lost Limit Debate

November 14, 1997
By: Joe Stange
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - More than four years ago, the state approved riverboat gaming under the impression there would be a $500 per admission loss limit.

Now, with the industry handicapped by substantial fees and taxes, Station Casinos, operator of two of the largest riverboats in the state, is asking legislators for a repeal of that loss limit.

Other operators in the state are backing away from that effort, saying it is not politically feasible.

Regardless of the disagreement, all of Missouri's gaming operators say they are burdened by a 31 percent tax rate, and insist they need to raise more revenue if they are make any profit whatsoever.

Furthermore, all operators agree on the $500 loss limit as the biggest problem hampering their efforts to raise revenue.

The limit was originally included in the gaming laws as an effort to prevent habitual gambling, but many in the industry have questioned its effectiveness in that area.

The dropping of the limit was one of the changes proposed by gaming operators Thursday at a hearing held before the Joint Committee on Gaming and Wagering.

One of the committee's members, Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, included himself in the minority of legislators who support dropping the $500 limit, which he called an "administrative nightmare."

Jacob told the Missourian the loss limit should be eliminated with other changes the gaming industry is requesting, but also said he doubted it could happen, partly because other lawmakers are "timid" sbout the issue.

"If we're going to be competitive, we're going to have to make all these changes at once, but I don't see that happening," Jacob said.

Aside from divided support in the legislature, part of the reason dropping the limit would be difficult is the varying enthusiasm among riverboat operators.

Represented Thursday by Harrah's CEO Phil Satre, most of the operators will not pursue dropping the limit during the 1998 legislative session due to the "political climate."

However, Satre did emphasize the importance of the loss limit issue, calling it "the most significant issue impacting the industry's health and viability."

Scott Nielson, the executive vice president of Station Casino's general counsel, testified Thursday that the limit is not having the desired effect.

He said instead of preventing gambling addicts, the rule only compels gamblers to move on to other casinos such as those in Kansas and Illinois, thereby moving revenue out of the state.

"Although well-intentioned ... we know that the loss limit does not prevent problem gamblers," Nielson said.

Nielson also said the loss limit scares away wealthy gamblers who are prepared to lose more than $500 in the first place.