Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Monday that would have altered Missouri's penalties for underage youths trying to sneak into casinos with fake identifications.
Nixon said the bill would have weakened laws that keep minors out of casinos, though the industry had promoted the measure as a greater deterrent to underage gambling. Missouri has barred people younger than 21 from the gambling floor since its first casinos opened in 1994.
The governor also cited concerns about an unrelated provision in the legislation that would have allowed some people who were convicted of not paying child support to eventually have their criminal record expunged.
Nixon said the legislation "purports to deter minors from presenting false identification" at casinos but "in reality, (it) reduces the maximum penalty available for such an offense."
Current law makes it a misdemeanor - punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a maximum of six months in jail - for casino patrons of any age to show a false identification. Repeat offenders can face a stiffer misdemeanor penalty, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
The vetoed legislation would have left those same penalties in place for adults age 21 and older, but created a new classification of penalties for minors. The first offense would have been an infraction with a mandatory $500 fine and future offenses would have been misdemeanors punishable by fines of up to $500 and a maximum jail time of six months.
"Lowering the available penalties for such conduct, and removing a prosecutor's ability to seek incarceration for illegal gambling, is not a recipe to deter this criminal behavior," Nixon said in a written veto message.
The measure had been sponsored by Rep. Noel Shull, R-Kansas City, a former chairman of Missouri's casino regulatory commission. It also had the backing of the Missouri Gaming Association, which represents the casino industry.
Shull had said that many minors who try to get into casinos are simply turned away and never prosecuted for misdemeanor crimes.
He had hoped that prosecutors would be more likely to pursue an infraction charge, and that minors thus would be less likely to try to slip into casinos.
"We haven't seen the current law really acting as a deterrent to minors using fake IDs trying to get on our casino floors," said Mike Winter, the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association. "Clearly, we thought something needed to change to provide a better deterrent."
Last year alone, casinos caught or prevented about 845 minors from gaining access to the gambling floors, he said.
The legislation would not have changed the potential fines levied on casinos for underage gamblers.
Since 1997, Missouri casinos have paid $1.66 million of fines related to underage patrons, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the Missouri Gaming Commission. Those include a pair of $250,000 fines levied in the early days of Missouri's casino industry and a total of $75,000 of fines paid for six underage gambling cases so far in 2013.
The portion of the bill dealing with child-support payments would have allowed people convicted of "criminal nonsupport" to seek to have their records expunged after eight years if they completed a special courts program or paid their child support with no further criminal or administrative actions against them.
Nixon objected because he said it would have taken away discretion from judges and could have been used by people who were chronically late on child support payments but then suddenly paid up.