Lawsuit challenges November casino ballot measure

Hugh S. Welsh

Wolf in sheep’s clothing.

That’s what Sugar Creek City Attorney Bob Buckley has to say about The Schools First Elementary and Secondary Education Funding Initiative, a ballot measure approved by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to go before voters in November.

Buckley’s firm filed a petition Thursday in Cole County seeking an injunction that would overturn Carnahan’s ruling last week.

“It’s clever,” Buckley said of the initiative, “but there’s a lot of mischief in it.”

Buckley said the petition was filed primarily for two reasons: the deceptive heading of the measure, which would make it appear to only aid the state’s public school system, and – most importantly – its violation of the Missouri Constitution.

Article III, Section 50 of the Missouri Constitution reads: “initiative petitions for laws shall contain not more than one subject which shall be expressed clearly in the title ...”

“The constitution says there can be only one subject on a ballot proposition and that it be stated in the title,” Buckley said. “This is definitely in violation of that.”

The initiative calls for the following:

n a cap on the number of casino licenses,

n the repeal of loss limits, the raising of the casino gambling tax from 20 to 21 percent,

n the creation of a new specific education fund from the gambling tax called “Schools First Elementary and Secondary Education Improvement Fund” and

n the requirement that there be annual audits of the fund to assure money isn’t earmarked for other purposes than public education.

“It’s cloaked as ‘Schools First,’ yet it strongly favors casinos,” Buckley said. “It’s like being offered a multiple choice test and only being able to choose all of the above.”

Before Carnahan’s certification, 178,000 signatures were gathered over a two-month period from Pinnacle Entertainment in St. Louis and Ameristar Kansas City Casino and Hotel on Missouri 210. The driving force behind the petition is Yes For Schools First, a coalition of 600 individuals and organizations funded by only two: Ameristar and Pinnacle, each contributing $250,000.

If the ballot measure were to pass, and the number of casino licenses in the state capped at its current number of 13, Sugar Creek’s aspirations of someday landing a casino would be severely damaged. If a license were granted, Iowa-based Wild Rose Entertainment would develop a $135 million facility on 200 acres east of Missouri 291 just south of LaBenite Park. With 1,200 slot machines and 30 table games, it would be the smallest riverboat casino floor in the Kansas City market. Plans also include a hotel and some stores with the possibility of a marina, an open-air theater and a golf course.

According to a study by the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which was released in January, Kansas City’s overall revenue due to a Sugar Creek casino was expected to increase between 2.4 and 3.2 percent, or $20.5 million. On the other hand, Ameristar, Harrah’s North Kansas City Casino and Hotel, Argosy Riverside and the Isle of Capri were projected to lose almost $200 million. Partially because of its proximity to the proposed Sugar Creek casino, Ameristar was the projected biggest loser at $60 million.

The Examiner