Hundreds pack hearing room to discuss pros, cons of new casino

- In the end, it boiled down to those hoping to protect natural wetlands vs. those who believe a new north county casino will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the St. Louis economy.

The Missouri Gaming Commission hosted a hearing Tuesday morning at the Renaissance Hotel near Lambert-St. Louis airport.

Up to 300 people were shoe-horned into the hearing room, with more spilling out into the hallway.

Of the two St. Louis-area proposals, the one near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in Spanish Lake stirred the most heated debate.

“I would like to ask everyone here who is opposing the casino today to please stand,” casino opponent Dora Gianoulakis said from the podium, as casino supporters protested with shouts of “No!” and “Sit down”.

“No, we’re not going to do that,” interjected Missouri Gaming Commission chair James Mathewson, who had warned several times against spontaneous outbursts following speakers, either pro or con.

“We’re all going to try and love one another!” Mathewson added.

But there wasn’t much love in the room from opponents like former Missouri Conservation commissioner Cynthia Metcalfe.

“Eight thousand cars of parking, bright lights, noise — right smack in the floodway and right downstream from the wetlands at Columbia Bottom,” Metcalfe said in opposition to a new casino.

The idea has supporters, as well, from those who say it would boost the region’s struggling construction industry, which is still experiencing unemployment rates between 25-to-30%.

“This project is an economic engine for north county,” suggested Jerry Feldhaus with the St. Louis Building Trades Council. “For my members, it will mean millions of man-hours of work for the next decade or so.”

Others who spoke in favor of awarding a gaming license in north county included Mark Behlmann, vice president of the Hazelwood School District Board of Education, and representatives for Florissant mayor Bob Lowery and Congressman Lacy Clay.

The Missouri Gaming Commission is holding hearings on four applications for the state’s 13th gaming license with a decision possible around Thanksgiving.

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