Our Opinion: Know odds before betting on casinos

For the gambler, the allure of easy money is the driving force behind his or her bet.

But the gambler must always remember one time-tested truth: the house always wins.

Gambling is designed so that the house, or the casino owners, will see a profit.

Legislators -- and potentially voters -- must keep that in mind if a constitutional amendment that would allow a gambling boat on the Osage River becomes a reality.

If the driving force behind a new gambling boat is easy money for local and state coffers, the odds are against us. If the goal is to use it as a tool to develop a Mid-Missouri attraction, then we stand a better chance of success.

Missouri's Constitution allows for 13 licensed gambling boats to operate only on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Senate Joint Resolution 14 would add the Osage River to that list and direct the Missouri Gaming Commission to issue a single excursion gambling boat license for a casino boat on the Osage River between the Missouri River and Bagnell Dam at Lake Ozark.

The resolution drew mixed reviews this week in a hearing before the Senate Emerging Issues Committee.

Speaking in favor were residents and officials from Miller County and the lake area, who cited the economic shot in the arm a casino could inject into the lake's hospitality industry.

Speaking against it were those who opposed it for fear that a casino would disrupt the lake's family-friendly atmosphere and could adversely affect property values and economy of the Lake of the Ozarks.

Pushing the conversation is the reality that a casino is already coming to the lake and proponents of the resolution say adding a state-licensed casino would "level the playing field."

The Osage Nation is planning a casino on the grounds of a former Miller County hotel. The $60-million development is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Interior.

The tribal casino would not be subject to the same taxing and regulation structures as the 13 other Missouri casinos. For the state's 13 licensed casinos, state gaming taxes are more than 25 percent of a casino's total revenue with about a fifth of that amount retained by local governments.

A state-regulated gambling boat on the Osage River could generate at least $100 million in revenue and pay about $25 million in taxes with about $5 million going to city and county governments.

But Missouri legislators should proceed cautiously as it weighs the wisdom of adding another state-licensed casino.

While the allure of that "easy money" is strong, the overriding consideration should be if the addition of a casino would elevate the standards of living of the lake community.

If gambling is used for its entertainment value, it could benefit the Lake of the Ozarks. But gambling is not a good alternative for earning extra cash for the gambler -- or for the state.

Just as a wise gambler knows the odds before placing a bet, so should the state.

At a casino -- and in life, there are inevitably winners and losers. Let's be sure we know who we are in that equation and who will ultimately pay the price.