JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are considering a measure allowing casinos to loan money to patrons, something opponents say could make things worse for those with gambling addictions.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the House Financial Institutions Committee added the change onto a banking bill Wednesday with no debate. Committee members endorsed it by a 13-1 vote, sending the measure to the full House after the Rules Committee approves it.
Gamblers who pass a credit check would be able to borrow money and exchange it for electronic tokens and chips for wagering.
Proponents say the change would help attract high-end gamblers such as professional athletes visiting St. Louis. Illinois casinos are allowed to extend credit, and proponents of the Missouri bill say high-end gamblers now simply cross the Mississippi River.
"You can't carry $30,000, $20,000 in cash," said Rep. Scott Largent, R-Clinton, sponsor of the casino amendment. "Some of these athletes who come in, they want to gamble. If they want to gamble that much, they should be able to."
But Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, said lawmakers should try to help protect problem gamblers from themselves. Nasheed voted for the bill but now says she would have voted "no" if she had known what the amendment did.
"I made a mistake," Nasheed said. "I don't think gamblers should take out loans. You have gamblers who are addicted. It hurts their family. They lose their property. The divorce rate is high."
Much has changed since 1992, when Missouri voters approved riverboat gambling. Then, casinos were required to float the state's rivers. Now, all 12 simply sit on or near the Mississippi or Missouri rivers. Gone also is the law limiting gamblers to losing no more than $500 every two hours. Voters approved both changes after casino-funded campaigns.
The credit ban was also part of the original law. Mike Winter, who lobbies for the Missouri Gaming Commission, said 10 of the 15 states with land-based or riverboat casinos allow casinos to grant credit.
Pinnacle Entertainment, which operates casinos in St. Louis and St. Louis County, already handles credit applications at casinos in Indiana and Louisiana.
"It just allows customers to access their money conveniently," said Neil Walkoff, executive vice president of regional operations for Pinnacle.
Under the bill, customers would have to qualify for a line of credit of at least $5,000. Bill proponents say that would weed out those with gambling addictions and others who couldn't afford to go into debt to gamble.
But critics say casinos entice people to wager more than they can afford.
"Any time you make it easier for people who have gambling problems to increase their debt, then you make the problem worse for them," said Keith Spare of the Missouri Council on Problem Gambling Concerns.
Passage in the House would send the bill to the Senate, which has been less inclined to pass gambling bills. In fact, the sponsor of the underlying bill, Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, wasn't unhappy to learn of the credit amendment.
"That's a good way to lose your house or car," Richard said.