Education bill would raise casino tax

Legislators expect that gamblers’ losses could raise more than
$100 million in new revenue.
Sunday, February 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:43 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Missouri higher education could receive more than $100 million from increased taxation on people’s gambling losses, said Columbia’s Reps. Chuck Graham and Jeff Harris.

The two Democrats introduced a bill in the House on Friday, HB 1537, that would eliminate a Missouri casino-gambling law that limits spending to $500 every two hours. The bill would then raise the tax on casino revenue by 1 percent.

Graham and Harris said they hope that by removing the limit, Missouri’s casinos would be able to attract bigger spenders — and generate more taxable money to spend on higher education.

They estimated their bill would increase revenue by between $100 million and $200 million.

State gambling officials would not comment on the bill Friday, saying that they had not yet had time to review the accuracy of Harris’ and Graham’s financial projections.

The measure also provides for a Higher Education Investment Fund, which would dedicate money for higher education spending only. The fund would prioritize improvements and costs for public higher education institutions statewide.

Topping the proposed list is the University of Missouri system’s life sciences construction projects — the same projects that would have been funded by a $190.4 million bond issue as part of a name-change deal involving Southwest Missouri State University. That deal fell apart.

Graham and Harris said Friday afternoon that their list encompasses the entire state, as opposed to the bond, which was UM system only. They said the bill’s broad appeal increases its chance of passing.

“One of our goals here is to bring institutions together, to not have divisiveness,” Harris said. “And this proposal should help bring unity to higher education and help them speak as one voice. This really does benefit institutions and students in every corner of this state.”

The fund also would provide money for scholarships such as the Bright Flight program and the A-plus Program.

Quinton Wilson, commissioner of the state Board of Higher Education, said it was too early to gauge what impact the bill could have.

“We certainly appreciate any investment to higher education,” he said. “But it’s hard to say how it would be allocated.”

Meanwhile, the UM system — which would be a significant beneficiary of the bill — is also waiting for more time to study the proposal.

“There are projects they address that we’re supportive of,” said UM system spokesman Joe Moore. “But otherwise, it’s too early to comment on specifics.”

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