Missouri Gaming Commission puts St. Louis riverboat casino in limbo

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 | 5:24 p.m. CDT; updated 7:29 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 26, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri gambling regulators on Wednesday refused to allow a St. Louis riverboat casino to replace its century-old boat, which needs significant repairs to continue operating next year, unless the company gets a new operating license.

The Missouri Gaming Commission's decision to turn down Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.'s request could affect the entire state by allowing other companies to seek casino permits. The number of casinos allowed to operate in Missouri is capped at 13 under a 2008 voter-approved law.

Missouri currently has 12 casinos — including Pinnacle Entertainment's President Casino — and one under construction. That means companies seeking to develop new facilities must wait until an existing one loses its license.

Pinnacle Entertainment wants to replace the Admiral riverboat, upon which the President Casino sits, because it will no longer be certified for passengers after July 2010 without major repairs. It was first built in 1907 and rebuilt in 1940.

Businesses in Cape Girardeau and Sugar Creek have expressed interest in developing a new casino.

The Gaming Commission approved a resolution Wednesday that made it illegal to move the President Casino or to place it on a different river barge without first seeking a new license. The commission's resolution stated it "rejects all plans, proposals, and testimony" submitted by the facility's owners.

Commissioners held a nearly six-hour meeting last month to consider the company's proposal.

In the decision, commissioners cited a July state attorney general opinion that said Missouri casino licenses were linked to a specific boat and location. Commissioners said that meant a new license was required before casinos could replace a gambling boat or permanently change a casino's location.

Commissioner Suzanne Bradley, who proposed the resolution, said regulators had little choice in the Pinnacle case.

"As a commission, we must abide by the law," Bradley said.

Casino attorneys said the decision could hamper economic development in St. Louis.

"We are disappointed with the commission's decision. We don't believe that it's supported by the law, and we'll now have to just consider whatever legal remedies we might have," said Jack Godfrey, general counsel for Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment.

Godfrey said the process had been unclear since the commission's July hearing and said commissioners were breaking from precedent.

He said it was unclear what will happen to the President Casino.

Pinnacle Entertainment has said it wants to move the casino onto a new river barge in the same downtown St. Louis location. The firm also owns the newer Lumiere Place casino a few blocks away.

Regulatory staff argued that it didn't make sense to allow two casinos to be so close together, especially after the total number of operating licenses was capped.

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