JEFFERSON CITY -Missouri's casino riverboats moored in man-made lagoons now face opposition from a new direction after a state environmentalist group entered the mix to battle the gambling industry on Amendment 9.
By joining a fleet anchored by Show Me the River and other religious and social groups, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment has set a new precedent. Historically, environmentalist groups have made attempts to thwart some boats-in-moats on a site-by-site basis, but never have taken on the entire industry.
The amendment, set to be voted upon in the Nov. 3 general election, is the subject of furious debate between a stiff opposition and proponents of the gambling industry, who feel the constitution should be altered to allow gambling boats in artificial moats.
"We're putting our name in the pot," said Pat Waterston, president for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. "But we're not fighting against riverboats per se, we're fighting against the development they bring."
The Coalition for the Environment is concerned that gambling riverboats in man-made moats jeapordize flood plains along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Waterston said.
"Clearly boats in moats add development to the flood plains," she said. "It's not good for animal habitats, farmland or wetlands."
From 1981 to 1996 Missouri lost 170,000 acres of farmland to urban development. Waterston said when gambling riverboats construct levies guarding against potential flooding they create a false sense of security, attracting new businesses and highways which in turn pressure farmers to sell their riverside land for urban development.
Don Posten, a spokesperson for the gambling industry's campaign arm - Missourian's for Fairness and Jobs, said he was suprised by the latest source of opposition.
"This is something I certainly haven't heard of before," Posten said. "I don't understand where they're coming from because the riverboats are only near Kansas City and St. Louis, which are already urban areas."
Meanwhile, another Missouri enivronmentalist group, the Sierra Club, voted Oct. 11 to abstain from taking a position on the amendment, deeming Amendment 9 not to be an environmental issue.
"It's a social issue," said Ken Midkiff, director of the Sierra Club. "If we took a position, we would spend so much time explaining our support [against the amendment] we would not be able to spend time working elsewhere."
Midkiff said the Sierra Club will continue a policy of concentrating efforts on individual riverboats threatening the environment. Already, the Sierra Club has focused on some casino riverboats - like Players Island Casino in Maryland Heights, Kimmswick's Lady Luck Casino - for potential damage to Mastodon State Park, and an undergoing project in Boonville.