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Casino companies make their case to Mo. Gaming Commission

The Mo. Gaming Commission, at a meeting in Jefferson City, listens to a proposal to build a casino resort in Cape Girardeau.
Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio
The Mo. Gaming Commission, at a meeting in Jefferson City, listens to a proposal to build a casino resort in Cape Girardeau.

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio


Jefferson City, Mo – The three contestants for the state's 13th gaming liencse - Isle of Capri, Paraon Gaming, and Casino Celebration - brought details of their casino resort projects, as well as high-profile supporters, to a meeting of the Gaming Commission in late October to convince regulators why they are the best choice.

The coveted license became available earlier this year when the President Casino, under pressure from the Gaming Commission, shut it doors.

It was all about location, location, location for the Isle of Capri, which wants to build a resort in Cape Girardeau, generating about 450 permanent jobs. Cape Girardeau is the only city in the running without a casino, and Isle of Capri chief development officer Paul Keller said that makes the southeastern Missouri city the best place for a new gaming facility.

"This market area will actually contain as many as six states, so our reach is quite extensive into northern Arkansas, southern Illinois, mid-Missouri, western Tennessee, western Kentucky, and southern Indiana," Keller said.

Isle of Capri's backers also added that building in Cape Girardeau avoids market cannibalization, a possibility if the license went to developers in the other two cities - especially in Kansas City, where a mega-resort is planned for right across the state line.

That was a point hotly contested by Paragon Gaming, which wants to build in Sugar Creek, about 10 miles outside Kansas City. A resort east of Kansas City could, they said, draw traffic away from that new resort in Kansas.

The population in east Jackson County is exploding, said Sugar Creek mayor Stan Salva.

"Eastern Jackson County is exploding, and those kind of numbers is the main reason why Sugar Creek will add much revenue to the state and really shouldn't take anything away from anyone else," said Sugar Creek mayor Stan Salva.

Backers of Casino Celebration made similar arguments about their planned casino at the foot of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge in north St. Louis. Most of the revenue, they said, would come from customers who currently go to the Alton Belle Casino across the river.

But supporters of that project also made a different argument. The license, they said, should remain in St. Louis because it became available only after the closure of the President Casino, once housed in the old Admiral riverboat on the city's riverfront.

"Casino Celebration's proposed location in the city's northern corridor provides a level of investment in job creation not seen in this area in the city of St. Louis for decades," said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

All three developers told commissioners that state revenue would be boosted by multiple millions of dollars. And each one assured them that they had the financial resources to build their casinos and stay in business.

Commission Chairman James Mathewson remained skeptical.

"I'm not satisfied with anyone's financial statements," he said. "Our staff and people that we trust are going to dig deep into those financial arrangements, because that's just a must."

Mathewson was also unsure about the saturation of the Kansas City and St. Louis markets.

A fourth potential developer appeared to be out of the running after failing to show up for the meeting. North County Development LLC, which planned a casino resort near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, had wanted more time to prepare their presentation. But Mathewson refused to grant an extension, and said their no-show means they're out of the picture.

The Gaming Commission is expected to decide by the end of the year. It could also decide to give the license to no one.