Anti-gaming group displays 39,000 letters at County Council meeting

By Alyson E. Raletz

Rally Against Gambling Expansion members displayed 39,000 signed letters at last week’s County Council meeting in Clayton — literally delivering their message of intolerance for gaming to the hands of councilmen.

Large white-cloth bags stuffed with letters signed by area RAGE supporters filled the first row of the County Council Chambers in the County Administration Building in Clayton during the council’s April 20 session. The letters are anti-gaming in nature, but also specifically ask County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, to reject Pinnacle Entertainment’s proposal to develop a casino at the former National Lead Site in Lemay.

“Pinnacle’s proposal includes an array of playground attractions for teens, such as a movie theater, skating rink, 24-acre park, bowling alley, community center and an aquatic center,” one of the letters stated. “Child-based themes and family friendly images are merely advertising and marketing strategies used by casinos and the gambling industry to entice our young people to an obviously adult industry … We ask that you move to stand united with the citizens of Missouri who oppose this corporate abuse of children.”

Denny Hettenhausen, founder of RAGE, and other group members gave some of the letters to Campisi and then delivered the rest to legislators in Jefferson City April 21 in an effort spread their opposition.

“I think we made a really bold statement,” Hettenhausen told the Call. “People really wanted to know why we were up there with all those letters and I had to explain to a lot of people what we were doing.”

Hettenhausen is an Oakville resident who also spearheaded previous efforts to stop casinos from coming to south county.

“The fact that they want to put a casino into a residential area really pushed people too far,” she said. “This is supposed to be excursion riverboat gambling and people are just pushed to the limit and we’re ready to start fighting again. And if we have to fight our legislators at this point, this is going to be our best bet … We let them know we are very serious and we want them to do something about it.”

About 15 citizens spoke at the April 20 council meeting, expressing their opposition to a south county casino — primarily opposing the Pinnacle proposal.

Scott Yaeger spoke, addressing the social costs of casinos in communities. Casinos are being “forced on local communities,” he said, and then asked “how much local opposition will it take” for councilmen to reject the Pinnacle proposal?

Mark Andrews of Casino Watch spoke and submitted to councilmen a June 1999 congressional study called the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Andrews said the county and nation “need a moratorium until the commission understands the cost” of casinos in U.S. communities.

Robert Cannon of South County First, another anti-gaming group affiliated with RAGE, agreed with Andrews, saying that there is a “total disregard for the assessment of the costs” associated with casinos.

The County Council currently is conducting a five-part Committee of the Whole meeting to consider Pinnacle’s casino proposal. Two of those meetings will be in a public-forum format, one of which will take place at an unprecedented site outside of Clayton. Councilmen will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 6, at Hancock Elementary School, 9101 Broadway, to gain public input from Lemay and south county residents.

While Hettenhausen said she appreciates the councilmen’s efforts to gain public input on the issue, she questioned the fairness of conducting a hearing outside of the County Council Chambers.

“I don’t think it’s quite fair that they are taking a meeting from a certain area,” she told the Call. “The people that oppose this really have gone out of their way and taken their time away from their families to go to those meetings in Clayton. It just seems that they’re going to an area that may favor it that have taken no time to go to the meetings in Clayton. That’s what I think is unfair. That they’re trying to gather more information from different people — I respect that. But I think the rules should be the same for everyone. The same times. The same places.

“And if somebody wants to make an effort to let their voice be heard, then they should make the same effort as the next guy.”