Missouri seeing effects of declining casino visits

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A recent decline in Missouri’s casino revenues has created funding shortfalls for public schools and state-run veterans’ nursing homes, raising questions among lawmakers about the extent to which the state can continue to rely on gambling to fund some key programs.

Underlying the concern is an uncertainty over whether the shortfall is a temporary event caused by a cold winter, the economy and increased casino competition from neighboring states, or whether it is the start of a long-term trend.

Missouri relies on two sources of casino revenues. A portion of a per-patron casino fee is used to pay for the operations of the Missouri Veterans Commission, which oversees seven nursing homes for 1,350 retired service members. A state tax on casino revenues helps fund public schools.

But fewer people are visiting and spending money at Missouri’s 13 casinos, leaving lawmakers to scramble for a solution.

“We do have a problem in the veterans funding that has kind of gotten away from us,” House Budget Chairman Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, said in an interview this past week. “We are going to have to address it for this year’s budget.”

Missouri’s veterans’ homes are funded through a combination of casino fees, federal dollars and an average $2,000 monthly resident’s fee.

Concerns about long-term funding for veterans homes led lawmakers in 2012 to dedicate a larger share of the casino fees to the homes. But a decline in casino attendance is causing lawmakers to revisit the issue.

A recent report from the Missouri Gaming Commission shows that patronage at casinos decreased about 9 percent through the first seven months of Missouri’s 2014 fiscal year compared with the same period the previous year. That means funding for veterans programs is down by a similar amount.

“If more people gamble then the odds are the funds will increase,” said Daniel Bell, a spokesman with the veterans’ commission.

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This story helps explain the need to be at the Veterans Rally at the Capitol in Jefferson City on April 9, 2014 .