One of the items on the ballot this Tuesday in Missouri is Proposition A, which would get rid of the ridiculous loss limit in the casinos in the state.
If you’re not familiar with the loss limit — a law unique to Missouri — here’s how it works, or rather, how it doesn’t work. To gain entrance to a casino in the state, you have to show ID and get a player’s card. That card is then swiped at a turnstile before you’re allowed on the casino floor. Once inside, you can play any game(s) you like, as long as you don’t buy-in for more than $500 in a two-hour period.
However, that two hour period doesn’t start when you play your first game, or even when you walk in. It starts on every even hour. So, if you went to a blackjack table and asked for $500 in chips at 6:01pm, you couldn’t buy any more chips until 8:00pm (regardless of whether you win or lose at that table or anywhere else in the casino). But if you got there a little earlier, and made your initial $500 buy-in at 5:59pm, you could then purchase another $500 in chips at 6:00pm, when the clock resets. That’s not two hours; it’s not even two minutes!
Those of us who are regulars at the local casinos know this, but newcomers are always startled by this system, because it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the gaming world. The regulars also know that, since there are no surveillance cameras in the bathrooms, you can often go in there to buy more chips from other players who may have them. And many of the high-limit players simply take their winnings home in chips, so that they can start their next session with more than $500 without having to deal with these obstacles on each visit.
In other words, the current system doesn’t work. But its advocates say that keeping a limit on the amount people can gamble will cut down on the number of people who develop gambling addictions and lose money they can’t afford to lose.
In the pro-Prop-A campaign, advocates are using the slogan, “Good for our schools, good for our economy.” That may be the way to get votes, but it’s not the real bottom line. The campaign should be based on one thing, and one thing only: “It’s not the government’s job to tell you what to do you with your money.”
While most newspapers in Missouri have endorsed Prop A, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch urged voters to reject with a feeble argument: “The loss limit is a safety net protecting compulsive gamblers from their own folly.”
They couldn’t be more wrong, as it is not government’s job to protect us from our own financial whims.
There is no limit on spending for any other recreational activity — no law tells you how many baseball tickets you can buy, how many movies you can attend, how many rounds of golf you can play (or how many classified ads you can buy in the local newspaper!!). There is also no cap on the number of lottery tickets you can buy, because that form of gambling is not only sanctioned by government, it is actually run by the state!
Proposition A would, in exchange for removing the loss limit, add another 1% tax on casino profits, and limit the number of casinos in Missouri at 13, essentially protecting current operators from future competition. It also promises that the additional tax revenue would go specifically to education. Missourians will forever be skeptical of promises to divert gaming money to education, after the initial guarantees that allowed casinos in the state proved false, and there was no windfall for Missouri schools because of some fancy financial footwork by the politicians in Jefferson City. But that’s still no reason to regulate what people do with their own money, on their own time, for their own recreation.
Missouri’s casinos would be glad to pay that additional 1% tax if the loss limit was gone. They would save money (on overhead, for example, when they don’t have to check and count each admission or watch what each player buys in for), and industry insiders tell me the additional revenue flow would mean an estimated 6-7% increase in profit. It would also allow the casinos to market themselves as a destination for high-limit players throughout the Midwest, and could even mean bringing a major poker tournament to St. Louis (Harrah’s would jump at the chance to host a World Series of Poker satellite event here, as would Ameristar with the World Poker Tour).
The opposition is funded by some anti-gambling extremists in the state, with help from casinos on the other side of the Mississippi River. Located in Illinois, they benefit from Missouri’s loss limit by attracting people who: a) want to play higher limits; and b) don’t want to provide personal information every time they play. If the loss limits are removed, the Illinois (and Kansas) casinos lose that edge.
Loss limit proponents keep harping on the notion that people who can’t afford to lose a lot of money will do just that. But what about people who can afford it, who either know how to play within their own limits or have plenty of cash to throw around? I’ve played poker several times with Nelly, the rap superstar, who can certainly play at higher limits than the state allows without feeling pinched. Charles Barkley has talked about the huge amounts he has won or lost, and pointed out that, since he has plenty of income, even his biggest losses haven’t been put a crimp in his life.
What right does the government have to tell them or anyone else how much they’re allowed to bet? Yes, some people may be hurt when they gamble and lose, but the government doesn’t stop them from buying a bigger car than they can afford, or charging so much on their credit cards that they get upside down on their finances. That’s because Americans believe in a large measure of personal responsibility, particularly when it comes to your own money.
Vote YES on Proposition A and throw the loss limit into the muck.