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Columbia Missourian

UPDATE: Repeal of Missouri casino loss limits in effect

By DAVID A. LIEB/The Associated Press
November 7, 2008 | 5:49 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The loss limits are off at Missouri casinos.

Although the results of Tuesday's election are not yet official, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office said Friday that a ballot initiative repealing Missouri's gambler loss limits took effect immediately on Election Day.

The means gamblers no longer are prohibited from buying more than $500 of tokens or betting chips every two hours. Missouri was the only state with such a restriction.

"You can lose as much as you want, as of right now," Gene McNary, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, said Friday.

The decision from Carnahan's office came as a surprise both to casinos and to state regulators.

Proposition A, as it was called on the ballot, passed Tuesday with 56 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. But the Missouri Gaming Commission had assumed it would not take effect until Carnahan officially certifies the results, which may not occur until December.

The Gaming Commission received notice Friday morning from Carnahan's legal counsel that — after consulting with the attorney general's office — Carnahan's office had determined the initiative took effect immediately upon its passage Tuesday.

The Gaming Commission then notified Missouri casinos of the decision. Casinos quickly began altering their slot machines to allow unlimited betting and doing away with the mandatory identification cards issued under the old system.

By late Friday afternoon, all of Missouri's casinos had made the adjustments, McNary said.

Carnahan spokesman Ryan Hobart said the decision about the measure's effective date was based on a Missouri Constitution provision about ballot initiatives. It states: "Except as provided in this constitution, any measure proposed shall take effect when approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon."

Although the election was Tuesday, some election jurisdictions didn't finish reporting their results to the state until Wednesday. And some provisional ballots still remain to be counted. Local election authorities have until Nov. 18 to certify their results to Carnahan's office, which Hobart said then has until Dec. 9 to officially certify the election results.

Hobart said he did not know how the interpretation of an immediate effective date would have been implemented had Tuesday's vote totals been so close that the outcome could have been altered by the subsequent counting of provisional ballots.

Scott Holste, a spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon, cited attorney-client privilege in declining to comment Friday about the advice the attorney general's office provided about the effective date of ballot measures.

Nixon was elected governor Tuesday, but he does not take office until Jan. 12.

Besides repealing the gambler loss limit, the ballot initiative also increases the state tax rate charged to casinos and caps the number of casino licenses that can be issued.

The higher tax rate and repeal of the loss limits are projected to generate an additional $105 million to $130 million annually in Missouri tax revenues, which are to be dedicated to elementary and secondary education.