Cynthia Juedemann
There's no question in my mind that the "Yes for Schools First" campaign would more accurately be called "Yes for Casinos First." But schools would finish a close second if the initiative passes in November.

The initiative proposes eliminating the $500 loss limit in Missouri casinos imposed by the Missouri Gaming Commission, which says that casinos "shall insure through internal controls that no person shall lose more than five hundred dollars ($500) during each gambling excursion."

If voters approve removing that regulation, casinos will respond by increasing the gambling tax from 20 to 21 percent. Why is that important to Missouri public education? The vast majority of those tax dollars go toward education spending in the state.

I know full well the criticisms that will be leveled at this post. Removing the loss limit preys on those addicted to gambling, for starters.

Gambling is not synonymous with casinos. Those who have problems would find a way to gamble — on the Internet, at poker night in their own homes, at their church bingo night, or even by traveling to other states. Attacking a lawful form of entertainment is an outlet for frustration with a different problem. And it's an entirely legitimate problem. But removing temptation from one quarter isn't the answer. It's not the casinos that create the problem, just like it's not the poker or bingo nights.

Another criticism is the extortionist bent to the initiative. It's the nudge-nudge, wink-wink "let us get away with taking more money and we'll kick some your way."

It's true that casinos are asking to be allowed to take more money, but in my line of thinking, they shouldn't have to ask in the first place. Why is the loss limit now in place? Why should the government step in to tell me how much money I can spend on entertainment in any given evening?

Casinos are simply providing Missourians with an incentive to remove a regulation that limits their business. If the incentive is great enough, Missourians will respond. But it should be Missouri citizens who decide, not the government deciding for them.

And a final criticism is the rhetoric being used by the "Yes for Schools First" campaign. Many would say it's a business deal cloaked in feel-good language. I've already acknowledged my misgivings about the wording of the initiative, and I'm not overly fond of the fact that casinos can use schools to make their business seem more altruistic.

Anyone who gives it half a thought knows casinos aren't in it for the schools. They're businesses, and they're in it for profit. But why shouldn't Missouri schools profit at the same time? You'd be hard-pressed to argue that a person who otherwise wouldn't set foot in a casino will choose to gamble just to help the schools.

Missouri voters will have to carefully weigh their options this November. Gambling addiction is a serious problem, and not one I'm trying to make light of. But the gambling in question is legal in Missouri. And I simply do not believe that removing the casino loss limit will appreciably change the amount of gambling engaged in by Missouri citizens. The only change I anticipate is that it may become more localized.

And it will help Missouri schools.

If you have comments, please leave them below, or email me.

About the Author

Cynthia Juedemann