Republicans look to casinos for campaign funds
By Paul
Republicans were once reluctant about accepting campaign cash from Las Vegas-based casino companies. This year, the party's legislative leaders are receiving more than twice as much from casinos as Democrats. Key GOP-related committees received $90,320 from January to September, compared with $37,270 for Democrats.

House Minority Leader Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, solicited the donations, claiming that casinos were among over 300 businesses -- from mothball factories to ham-curing plants -- that she visited to bring in checks for the GOP.

'My pitch is the same as it is with everybody: that there's an unprecedented opportunity for Republicans to take the House, and we need financial support to deliver our message,' Hanaway said.

Democrats control the House 85-75, with three vacancies, but term limits and redistricting are altering the political landscape. Republicans have their best chance in more than 50 years to gain control in the Nov. 5 election.

Casinos are aiding the GOP because they're upset with Democrats for trying to raise gambling taxes this year. The plan would have earned up to $100 million for schools. It passed the House several times on a mostly party-line vote but died in the Republican-led Senate.

'It's kind of blatant,' said Rep. Tim Green, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. 'The boats are supporting the House Republicans for the defeat of a tax increase on an industry making 30% profit on the backs of problem gamblers.'

Casinos say that they already pay enough taxes - and that the industry is simply helping candidates sympathetic to those concerns.

'I don't care if these candidates are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian,' said Troy Stremming, an Ameristar executive. 'I'm looking for the candidate that's most supportive of our industry.'

Current law bars gamblers from buying more than $500 in slot-machine tokens or table-game chips during each two-hour gambling session. Casinos have lobbied for the limit's repeal, arguing that it drives high rollers to other states and doesn't help compulsive gamblers.

Hanaway, who is running for speaker if her party takes control, said she saw little chance that the loss limit would be repealed. Most members of the House Republican Caucus want to keep it, she said.

House Democrats killed loss-limit repeal after organized labor lined up against it. Labor's argument? Casinos shouldn't be rewarded with repeal of the limit because they pay low wages and stifle attempts to organize workers.

That prompted casinos to begin courting Republicans.

'For a decade, they could safely ignore us,' said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. Now, 'they want to have relationships on both sides of the aisle.'

The Senate Majority Fund - which works to keep the Senate in GOP hands - has accepted $32,690 from casinos this year. That's slightly more than has gone to the Democratic Senatorial Committee, which is trying to regain control of the chamber after two years on the outs. Senate Democrats received $29,790 from casinos.

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