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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Councilman's Inability to Say No to Casinos, Angers Casino Chief

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 1:45 PM

By now you've probably heard how St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger was flabbergasted Tuesday when a casino executive "muscled" him prior to a council meeting.

As Stenger told the Post-Dispatch yesterday, the chairman and chief executive of Pinnacle Entertainment, Daniel Lee, and his entourage cornered Stenger (D-Affton) on Tuesday night just before the council was set to vote on a controversial casino proposal for north county.

The Las Vegas-based Pinnacle is finishing up a $357-million casino in Stenger's south county district and the casino boss didn't want Stenger to vote in favor of yet another casino in the St. Louis area.

Trouble is, Stenger just can't say no to casinos -- any casinos.

It was Stenger, after all, who insisted that casinos be exempted from the St. Louis County smoking ban if fellow council members wanted his vote on the matter. The council kowtowed to Stenger's demand and exempted casinos.

Then yesterday -- a day after voters in the county overwhelming approved the smoking ban -- there's Stenger blabbing to the Post-Dispatch in another article about how perhaps he should not have caved to gaming interests and insisted upon an exemption for casinos.

"With upwards of 65 percent of the peole voting in favor of the ban, I think you can see the day coming to phase out that exemption," Stenger told the paper.

Ya think? Too bad Stenger and the rest of the council didn't pass the buck on the casino vote (like they did with the smoking ban) and send the issue to voters. Based on the groundswell of opposition to building yet another casino in the region -- this one just outside a conservation area in north county -- it seems voters would have had plenty to say on that matter as well.

Instead, the council decided to vote on the issue themselves. Stenger's vote in favor of the casino ensured its passage by a 4-2 margin.

After the vote, Stenger says Pinnacle's Daniel Lee stormed up to the dais and yelled toward Stenger: "He just made the worst move in his political career. I wont forget this! I never forget things like this!" 

Obviously, Lee saw Stenger's vote as detrimental to his company. But the alleged snub was misinterpreted. Stenger loves Pinnacle. He loves all casinos -- so much so that he just can't say no.

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