JEFFERSON CITY -With statewide general elections looming Nov. 3, religious leaders from an eclectic selection of Missouri's faith-based organizations convened Thursday at the Capital Rotunda in Jefferson City to denounce Constitutional Amendment 9.
If passed, Amendment 9 would rewrite Missouri's constitution to permit games of chance on gambling riverboats stationed in artificial basins adjacent to the main channels of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
The Nov. 3 election will be the latest barometer in a traditionally checkered relationship between the gambling industry and Missouri voters. Defeated in a 1994 lawsuit galvanized by the Illinois-based riverboat Casino Queen, Missouri riverboats bounced back later the same year, gaining approval to patrol the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in statewide elections.
Now, opponents say, riverboat casinos want more.
"I believe any reasonably educated person could read the constitution," said Episcopal Bishop John Buchanan. "To come up with a farfetched idea that a hole in the ground 400 feet from the river is in the river is mindboggling."
Thursday's interfaith coalition at the capital building was initiated by Buchanan and Kay Christensen, an elder from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Present and issuing statements were church leaders from Missouri's Episcopal denominations, the Latter-day Saints, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Disciples of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Missouri Baptist Convention.
After asserting unanimous opposition of the boats-in-moats amendment, the coalition addressed several of the issue's points of contention - including the dangers of obsessive gambling, accusations of unconstitutionality and the potential loss of jobs if the amendment were to be defeated.
"I think there is some deception on how many jobs will be lost," said Peggy Eschelman, a representative from the United Methodist Church.
Church leaders maintain many of the workers losing jobs if the amendment were not to pass would be relocated to one of the five riverboats upon the rivers, which abide by the present wording of the constitution.
Players Island Casino in Maryland Heights, one of ten Casino riverboats threatened by the vote, has between 900 and 1,000 jobs at stake, said Damon Butler, the boat's associate vice-president of marketing. Butler added that many of the employees were on welfare before they acquired jobs at the Casino.
"To be honest, I would venture a guess that the other five boats are probably satisfied with their employee levels," Butler said. "I think the chances of our workers being hired at other boats are slim to none. If we didn't fall into the boat-in-moat category and a boat across the street closed down, we wouldn't need to hire their workers either."
Church involvement has proved to be the backbone of opposition to Amendment 9. Aside from compelling congregations to vote Nov. 3, churches have organized a grassroots effort to garner votes across the state. Included in that effort is a series of debates sponsored by the United Methodist Church that is ongoing this week.
"We're passionate about this issue because pastors and churches are on the frontlines," said Buchanan. "They hear stories of businesses that have been operating for generations closing down because they were being sucked up by casinos."
Both sides have been found to be virtually neck-to-neck in polls conducted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.