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Missouri veterans are lobbying to get more money from the state's casinos and lottery

Flags decorate the north lawn in front of the World War I Memorial and Museum during a Veterans Day ceremony in 2020.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Flags decorate the north lawn in front of the World War I Memorial and Museum during a Veterans Day ceremony in 2020.

Currently $20 million of the state’s annual $400 million in gaming revenue goes toward veterans. A state lawmaker wants voters to increase that share.

A state representative wants Missouri to give more of its gaming revenue to veterans projects.

Currently the Missouri Veterans Commission is primarily funded by a $2 charge for every person who visits one of the state’s casinos. The casino owners pay that fee.

That tax brought in $26.7 million to the Veterans Commission in 2014, but a drop-off in attendance saw that go down to $19 million in 2019, the last full year before the coronavirus pandemic further reduced attendance.

Efforts to increase the fee by $1 or $2 per gambler have failed.

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, is sponsoring a bill that would put a question in front of voters for Missouri to give half of all its $400 million in gaming revenue, including the lottery, to veterans programs.

“It solves our problems with the veterans homes, it solves our problems with the cemeteries, but more than anything else it solves a lot of problems for our veterans,” Griffith said at a rally at the state Capitol this week.

The Veterans Commission reports the seven state-run veterans homes are at half capacity because of low staffing levels caused by the homes paying less than comparable positions at other nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Gov. Mike Parson is trying to address this, in part, with his request to increase the pay of all state workers. That would include nurses and other state employees at the veterans homes.

But that isn’t enough, Griffith said. He said the state needs to show more of a commitment to veterans in the way it budgets.

“We need to have a line item in the budget where we can have a revenue stream we know is going to be dependable each and every year,” Griffith said.

If the measure passed and was then approved by voters, it would move $200 million a year from education to veterans causes. That’s likely to face stiff opposition from educators and schools, but it won’t stop veterans from lobbying lawmakers.

“We have to let our legislators know,” said Troy Williams of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We need to ask our legislators to stand up for our veterans.”

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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