CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) â¿¿ For some in Cape Girardeau, a proposed casino project is a beacon of economic growth for the city's struggling downtown. For others, it offers false promise and is likely to spur addiction and divorce while draining profits from existing businesses.
Voters will settle the debate next week by casting ballots on whether to allow a casino in the city. It is a decision with statewide implications, as Missouri regulators consider proposals from several cities for the state's last available casino license.
The casino debate cuts across a city known for its conservative politics, essentially pitting hopes for economic development against concerns about immorality and social costs.
Even if residents in Cape Girardeau approve gambling, it does not guarantee the Missouri Gaming Commission will award the city the license. But a rejection all but ensures it will not happen, and it is uncertain when and if another such opportunity might present itself.
"It is probably one of the last, best opportunities to revitalize Cape's downtown, and we think the possibility of bringing over 400 jobs to Cape Girardeau is something that in this economy we desperately need," said Trent Summers, a spokesman for the campaign committee that supports developing a casino.
Critics also express urgency. Many of their objections are couched in religious and moral terms, presented as a litany of social ills: divorce, addiction, crime, depression and home foreclosures.
Doug Austin, a retired marketing director who moved to Cape Girardeau from Oklahoma City, said he doubts the casino would help economically. Rather than generate more money, Austin fears it would sop up business from local restaurants and bars.
"There aren't no new pennies falling from heaven to be used for gambling ... that money has got to come from somewhere," said Austin, who has helped organize opposition to the proposed casino.