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Anti-gaming groups make their case at Committee of the Whole meeting

People who live within 50 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be addicted to gambling than people who live farther away, according to a 1999 report published by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

That statistic and others were presented last week to county councilmen by representatives of Casino Watch, Rally Against Gambling Expansion and South County First.

Anti-gaming activists participated May 4 in the second part of a series of the County Council's Committee of the Whole sessions scheduled to consider Pinnacle Entertainment's proposal to construct a 90,000-square-foot gaming facility at the former National Lead Site in Lemay. A 280,000-square-foot non-gaming space, environmental remediation of the site and additional community enhancements would bring Pinnacle's potential total investment to $300 million.

Pinnacle also projected its south county casino would bring an additional $25.5 million to county taxing jurisdictions in its first year of operation along with 2,000 permanent and 1,000 construction jobs.

On April 20, councilmen heard from representatives of the St. Louis County Economic Council and Pinnacle Entertainment, who presented information designed to persuade councilmen to approve the proposal.

The council also gave a handful of area leaders who oppose the proposal the same amount of time to present information that could persuade councilmen to reject the proposal.

Sam Murrell, executive director of Casino Watch, last week discussed mental health statistics with councilmen, noting suicide, addiction and stress-related illnesses increase in areas near casinos.

"These things do not happen in a vacuum. Taxpayers have to step up to the plate and fill in the gap in these circumstances," Murrell told councilmen, noting that often the elderly, who live on a fixed-income, are highly affected by gambling addiction.

Often, he said, the community ends up picking up the tab when senior citizens have spent their money set aside for living expenses and prescriptions at the boats, which can arise in "devastating costs" for citizens.

"It all affects our community as a whole," Murrell said.

In a discussion after the adjournment of the May 4 meeting, Don Cannon of South County First told County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, that Lemay will not reap the so-called economic benefits being promised to it.

Referring to Pinnacle's proposal to construct a new roadway between Broadway and Lemay Ferry Road along the River des Peres to gain greater access to the Lemay site, Cannon said, the vision of the casino's patrons will not be "defiled" by seeing Lemay when they drive to the casino.

"No one's going to care how Lemay turns out," he said.

RAGE Founder Denny Hettenhausen also questioned Campisi, asking why the county had not pursued other development options for the Lemay site — leaving the community with a choice between a casino or nothing.

"No one wants to touch it," Campisi answered, adding that it will take at least $8 million to remediate the environmental issues at the former National Lead Site.

He said the county had issued a request for proposals for the site, but "My God," he said, "I don't know where you can go to find that person" who will spend the money to remediate the site and then spend money to develop the property.

Hettenhausen told the Call she believed, based on the facts presented by anti-gaming activists and other community members who oppose the Pinnacle proposal, councilmen "will have no choice" but to do "the right thing" and reject the proposal.

The Missouri Gaming Commission has the ultimate authority on all gaming licenses issued in the state.

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