Cape Girardeau snags last available Missouri gaming license

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 | 1:10 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Gaming Commission voted unanimously to award the city of Cape Girardeau the state's 13th and last available gaming license Wednesday.

Cape Girardeau's plan pulled ahead of proposals from St. Louis and Sugar Creek. The commission's approval green-lights construction on an Isle of Capri casino, estimated to cost $125 million and, according to Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger, create 450 jobs. Rediger said city officials had been working on the proposal since March and called the opportunity an economic "game changer."

"I'm very confident that we have produced the best offer for the state of Missouri," Rediger said. "Obviously the commission agreed."

Commission chairman James Mathewson said the decision was difficult and admitted he hadn't slept well the night before.

"I've had some tough votes," Mathewson, a former state senator, said. "But this one has really bothered me ... people and communities, this is important to them. And it's important to me because it's important to them."

Mathewson said a saturated casino market in St. Louis, paired with "stacks and stacks of opposition," made Cape Girardeau a better choice. Similarly, Mathewson said Sugar Creek's close proximity to Kansas City also proved a strong gaming industry presence was already in place.

"The commission has some obligation to those casinos that have already made major investments in the state," Mathewson said.

Isle of Capri Casinos already operates three locations in the state, and some were concerned adding a fourth would be detrimental to the industry. Mathewson said the commission has discussed the particular situation in depth and felt the estimated financial benefits Isle of Capri would bring the state outweighed this worry.

Not everyone agreed with the commission's decision.

Rodney Crim, Executive Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, said the license was "taken" from the city of St. Louis, and the economic analysis of Cape Girardeau's proposal was flawed. Crim said St. Louis' proposal would have created 600 jobs and $30 million in tax revenue for the state.

"These jobs are in an area of the city that desperately needs them," Crim said, "and so we thought we had the best proposal. We're sure we had the best proposal."

Crim said the June closure of St. Louis' President Casino left the city short a gaming license and 200 jobs.

"This license was taken from the city of St. Louis," Crim said, "this license should have stayed in the city of St. Louis."

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