JEFFERSON CITY — Gamblers willing to put up at least $10,000 could get a special perk at Missouri casinos that could make their experience a little more like going to Las Vegas.
The Missouri Senate passed legislation Wednesday that would allow casinos to extend a line of credit to high-stakes gamblers who don't want to carry wads of cash around with them. The casino industry hopes the special financial privilege could make Missouri more alluring to big bettors who already enjoy similar perks in states such as Nevada, New Jersey and Illinois.
"This is about a convenience for our patrons," said Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association. He added, "I think we're missing out on some players who would come to Missouri."
Senators passed the bill 24-9, sending the measure to the House with about six weeks remaining in Missouri's legislative session.
But some Republican senators questioned the wisdom of making it easier for people to wager large amounts of money.
"I realize that gambling is kind of a part of life now, but I still believe there are certain moral aspects to society that make some things good and some things bad," said Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar. "I don't see any place where gambling, or expanding gambling, has ever had a positive impact on families."
The legislation allows casinos to advance a minimum line of credit of $10,000, which would be considered an unsecured, no-interest loan due in at least 30 days. Intoxicated customers would be denied the credit.
At a Senate committee hearing earlier this year, the legislation drew support from representatives of the Missouri casino industry as well as state and St. Louis-area business associations.
Troy Stremming, the executive vice president of public affairs at Pinnacle Entertainment, said at the hearing that the goal was to attract high rollers, such as athletes who have credit lines at affiliated casinos in other states but who cannot use that at Missouri casinos. Pinnacle operates 16 casinos and racetracks in nine states, including casinos in the Missouri cities of St. Charles, St. Louis and Kansas City.
At least 10 other states allow casinos to issue lines of credit, according to the Missouri Gaming Association.
Sponsoring Sen. Scott Rupp said the $10,000 minimum is intended to limit the credit line to those most able to afford it.
"Individuals of high net worth can have access to their own cash when they travel in Missouri. They don't have to carry it with them," said Rupp, R-Wentzville. "They can call ahead and get preapproved and have electronic funds drafted from whatever bank account they choose."
The legislation marked what is likely the final time Rupp will handle a bill during debate. Rupp is expected to be confirmed Thursday by his colleagues to an appointment by Gov. Jay Nixon to serve on the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. The new position will require him to resign from the Senate.