The Missouri Gaming Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to give Isle of Capri the go-ahead to build a casino in Cape Girardeau. It will be Cape’s first casino. Commission Chairman Jim Mathewson says while there were concerns about giving Isle its fourth casino license of the 13 the state has to offer, he stands by the decision.
“I think the Isle of Capri people have proven themselves to be a good corporate citizen in the state of Missouri. We know their record, their corporate headquarters is in the state of Missouri… their financial data held up,” Mathewson said.
Isle of Capri beat out two other companies with proposals for casinos in St. Louis and the Kansas City area.
“(The St. Louis proposal) was a good license, I think probably more than anything else, I felt like maybe that market was already saturated,” Mathewson said.
A Department of Economic Development report cited that in pointing to Cape as the proposal that would generate the most new net general revenue, gaming taxes, and new employment. Mathewson said the commission needed to look at the impact for the entire state.
“The commission has some obligation to those casinos that have already made major investments in the state. I think when you look at the total of the investments that have already been made on the 12 existing licenses, it’s big. It’s billions of dollars,” Mathewson said.
He says the situation was very similar for the proposal in the Kansas City area.
“Even more complex I think because Kansas is several months out ahead of us,” Mathewson said.
He’s referring to a casino planned near the Kansas Speedway, that he says would open eight months to a year before any potential casino could have been opened on the Missouri side of the state line.
Mathewson said throughout the application process that the Commission wasn’t required to re-issue the license being vacated by the President Casino in St. Louis. But he says the commission hired private auditors to make sure each of the proposals had the funding they would need to see the project through to the end.
“I would have been happy to do nothing, seriously. But at the same time, I look at the amount of money and the state’s position on financial data right now. That education fund’s going to get slimmer. Here we had the opportunity to pick up another $20 million a year to go into the education of our children with a company that we were already doing business with that we knew, at least today, was sound. Why wouldn’t we want to pick up $20 million to go for it?” Mathewson said.
He’s also glad this part of the process is over.
“I’ve been nervous about it. I’ll be honest with you I didn’t sleep well last night. It bothers me. People and communities; this is important to them. It was important to me because it was important to them. We went out and sought that information that was both for and against in each one of the communities and took our time to do that. The people responded and they showed up. They were friendly and kind to us. You build a relationship there. Yea, it was tough, a tough decision,” Mathewson said.
Meantime, for Isle of Capri the work is just starting.
“We’re going to release architects and engineers. We’re working with planning in Cape Girardeau today and we’re going to gear up for a start of construction in early summer. We’ll be open within two years,” said Paul Keller, Isle’s Chief Development Officer.
Keller says the company’s familiarity with the Missouri markets gave them confidence they would win the rights to the last license.
“We felt that if we could combine the best market left with an operator who’s got a lot of Missouri experience; that’s a pretty tough combination to beat and we thought we could win with it,” Keller said.
Keller says one of the main concerns at first was how a casino would be received in Cape.
“That really was one of our conditions before we even agreed to do this last spring. We talked to a lot of the local leaders, the mayor, the city council. We said, ‘We do not want to be somewhere we’re not wanted.’ We were assured we would be wanted and we’d be welcomed. We participated in the campaign and found out that 60% of the people agreed with that,” Keller said.
He’s referring to a ballot measure that Cape residents voted on in November, to voice their approval or disapproval of a casino in the city.
Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger says they’re not only wanted; they’ll become an asset.
“It’s a game changer for Cape Girardeau, not only with the revenue but with the predicted one million visitors into our ‘Old Town’ Cape area. It will do a lot to enhance not only the gaming operation as it comes to fruition, but all the other businesses,” Rediger said.
The license won’t officially be awarded until the day the casino opens.
Meantime, the group behind the proposal in St. Louis sent the Gaming Commission documentation ‘at the 11th hour,’ that refuted the findings of the DED report. Mathewson addressed that before the vote, and at a press conference following the vote.
“That came in I think Monday. We had our staff, our financial people start going through that. Our contract was with the Department of Economic Development. We had them look at it, they didn’t agree with it. You know, lawyers do what lawyers do. They’re paid to try to bring out points for their client. They brought them out, our staff that reviewed them, and we did review them thoroughly, didn’t agree with that,” Mathewson said.
Rodney Crim, the Executive Director of St. Louis Development Corporation, continued to disagree after the vote.
“I think we had the better plan. I understand the words that he said, but I believe we had the better plan and I believe the economic analysis had some flaws in it. We challenged those flaws, but those flaws were not revised and he used that as a basis for helping to make their decision,” Crim said.