Will a casino in Cape Girardeau become a reality?

By Mary-Ann Maloney - bio | email

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Many Cape Girardeau voters are hoping the city takes a gamble on casino gambling.

On November 2nd, residents head to the polls to decide whether or not a casino belongs downtown.

The $125 million facility as proposed by the Isle of Capri Corporation would include five restaurants, 1200 slot machines, meeting space, upper deck lounge and perhaps even a hotel someday.

The Isle of Capri group has been buying up property around the site of the old Florsheim Shoe factory for months.

There are thousands though, who are hoping Cape Girardeau residents vote down the measure come Tuesday.

Doug Austin is the spokesperson for the Quality for Life Committee in Cape Girardeau.  His group got thousands of signatures to put this issue on the ballot and is working to convince people that Cape Girardeau would suffer if a casino is built here.

"What kind of legacy am I setting for my children, my grandchildren if I tell them you get something for nothing?  That work is not necessary,"  Austin said.

Even if Cape voters say yes, the future of gambling in the rivertown is in the hands of the Missouri Gaming Commission.

The commission, made up of five men from Kansas City,  St. Louis, Sedalia and Republic, Missouri, will consider how Cape residents feel about the idea before issuing the state's 13th license.

There is thought that because the closest Missouri casino to Cape is 85 miles away in Caruthersville, the market can draw new casino patrons.  Isle of Capri estimates it can pull one million visitors from six states to Cape Girardeau every year.

Caruthersville has been home to Lady Luck Casino, owned and operated by the Isle of Capri, for years.

Chief of Police Chris Riggs says he can't say anything negative about the casino and what it's meant for Caruthersville.  He says there has not been an up tick in crime and that the Isle of Capri has been a good corporate citizen.

Jean Trainor and her husband have owned Little Pizza Heaven for 30 years.  Jean voted for the casino years ago and doesn't regret it.  She says the casino has been good for the city.

Drive through Lady Luck's parking lot any given day and you'll see license plates from Tennessee, Mississippi,  Arkansas and beyond.

Business owners in downtown Cape Girardeau love the idea of 25,000 people a week visiting the city and hopefully their shops.

Some argue that this isn't about whether or not you should gamble-just don't visit the casino if you're morally opposed to it-but rather, it's about the city's chance to develop the downtown into a bustling place and generate tax revenue that would improve infrastructure, roads and schools across Cape.

The neighborhood where the Isle of Capri plans to build the casino pays about $10,000 a year now in taxes.

If a casino is approved, a license granted and the casino is built, those taxes jump up to $3 million a year.

This isn't a new idea to Cape.   In 1993 voters first said no, then later yes, to a casino, but then were passed over by the gaming commission.

History will repeat itself on November 2nd as once again voters are given the choice of whether to take a chance on gambling.  Which part of the city's history will repeat itself?

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