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On short notice, about 50 opponents of any plan to allow a casino to be built near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers showed up Wednesday morning to get their point across to the Missouri Gaming Commission.  With their “CasiNO” buttons and leadership from a local minister and well-organized environmentalists, the protesters surrounded County Executive Charlie Dooley prior to the meeting and let him know they weren’t happy with him or the county council.  Dooley lost his cool and got in the face of one protester, jabbing both hands at the man’s face and repeating “Listen to me, listen to me.”  That was right after Dooley blathered on about how “all county citizens have the right to be heard and the county council will listen.”  He evidently couldn’t see that he was contradicting his own pronouncement by cutting the man off.

Another noteworthy conversation some of us had was with the president of the Hazelwood school board.  He was there in support of building the casino because his district would get direct money, not just from the general revenue where gambling funds end up.  His point was the money had to come from the casino or from taxpayers.  We tried to tell him it was sad that he was put in the position of having to make this false choice.  There should be better ways to support public education than by encouraging people to gamble away their money.  In fact, shouldn’t schools be teaching students to stay away from gambling?  Oh, that’s right.  It’s not “gambling.”  It’s “gaming.”  If hypocrisy were a disease, we’d all be terminally ill.

Once the “Gaming” Commission meeting started, the chair informed the audience that there are currently no more licenses available for new casinos, but, if and when one becomes available, there will be a public hearing on any aps for that license.  Whew, I sure feel better, don’t you?

Representatives of Pinnacle Entertainment gave a final report on the new River City casino built in Lemay on land straddling the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. The Commission gave unanimous approval which will allow the slots to start jingling March 4. I thought it was interesting that the areas where the gambling machines are located are called gaming “pits.”

So, when you lose more money than you can really afford, you can literally say you’re “in the pits.”

 Casino companies are required to keep track of gambling addicts.  On the Gaming Commission’s website, under “Problem Gambling,” we find this rather general rule of thumb.  

Over 80% of Americans participate in some form of gambling. For most people (95%), gambling is an occasional recreational activity in which they participate responsibly. However, a small percentage of the population experiences problems from their gambling behavior, and for some, it can be a progressive disease. Missouri has taken a broad based approach to address problem gambling issues.

I find it hard to believe that 80% of Americans gamble unless you consider things like driving the interstates at rush hour or marrying a dope fiend hoping to “cure him” as gambling.

Doing a little math and starting with approximately 300 million adult Americans, that would mean 12 million of them are “problem” gamblers.  If 12 million of us had swine flu, you can be sure it would be headline news !  

But, oh, the lengths we will go to deceive ourselves.  According to the Chief Operating Officer for St. Louis County, Garry Earls, the county is “delighted to be number 13” (as in the 13th casino in Missouri.)  And, in a more ominous tone, he said they’d be happy to be number 14 also if and when another opportunity arises- like in the bottomland along the Missouri River where eagles and other migratory birds rest on their trips north and south.

But who cares about birds when there is money to be made?  And how will we explain this to our grandchildren when they ask us why we didn’t speak up?