Water-based Casino Laws...why?

I’m just wondering why some (or maybe most) states require casinos to be located on the water. Many places have them on dry land, and I can’t figure out why a state would require them to be on water. Anyone know?

I wouldn’t know, but over here, until some years ago, casinos could be opened only in spas and in coastal towns.

The reason for this (originally, end of the 19th century, I believe) was to prevent the working class from wasting money in casinos, since at this time only well off people were likely to spend time in a spa/beach resort.

So, maybe there was a similar idea at work in the USA?

I don’t know, but I’ll make a WAG. It seems that these states are on the Mississippi River, which historically carried riverboats full of gamblers. I’m guessing that people these Southern states are fairly fundamentalist in their religion and probably think it’s a sin to gamble, so they son’t approve a casino on their state’s land. But ‘sinning’ is fun. By allowing riverboat gambling, the casinos them selves are not ‘in the state’ (they’re on the river) and they are ‘preserving a part of the region’s history’ by harkening back to the riverboat days.

Again, this is a WAG. And I haven’t had coffee yet, to boot.

Another guesser takes a guess.

The first casino here I remember was actually a ship that took you out in the Gulf some # of miles where the theory is “the law of the land” did not apply.

I think the current casinos are a take of on that idea. The ones I’ve seen always have a Hotel built on the land and some piers close by that take you out to one or two riverboats that are in the water.

They are not buildings over the water but actual boats so I always assumed the loophole in the law was that idea that they were not part of the land / laws. They are only 20 feet from the land but whatever squeaks by the lawmakers, and pays the toll I guess.

John F

Because at the time that most of these casinos openned most communities didn’t want them. Atlantic City was a resort town that had seen its better days. It fought to get casinos. But like in most other cases, nearby communities feared the moral and criminal problems that are often claimed to be part of gambling. When riverboat gambling took off, these fears were still present. The midwest casino boats originally couldn’t allow gambling until they left the docks. By the time Mississippi allowed gambling the need to move wasn’t the norm anymore but there was still a restriction that limited it to areas near a major water source, which kept them from the more “conservative” inland areas.
Alabama, which only allows horse and dog tracks, has talked about adding casinos like Mississippi. And just like Mississippi the idea was just along the coast and along the Tennessee River (in the northern part of the state). But if legalizing gambling isn’t a hard enough sell in the Bible Belt, Birmingham insists that it should have casinos too, the dog/horse tracks don’t want to be left out either, and some moderates just want to forget the casinos and go with a lottery like Georgia.

      • The reasons have to do with the fact that current laws are based on much earlier federal laws governing the permission of gambling and the absence of various tax collection on ships in “international waters”. It is similar to the tax situation that US cruise lines get, because they are registered under foreign flags–even though they only cruise to different US ports. (And cruise lines offer gambling too, don’t they?) No politician seems brave enough to step up and change the basic law, so they just extended the technicalities of it. They extended this reasoning to “inland areas of rivers that connect to inernational waters” and now even to “boats in moats”, where they build a pool and then build a barge in the pool that is only two feet shorter and narrower than the pool, but the pool is connected by an 18-inch pipe to a major waterway. One of the casinos in St Charles MO is built this way, IIRC.
  • The “cruise ship” legality was also the reason that many were at first required to cruise, but that is no longer a definite requirement apparently. At least in the St Louis area, riverboats are no longer strictly required to cruise. At first they were required to cruise for something like 30 minutes of 23 hours of every day, and during the hour time they were not cruising (which was like from 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM) you could not get on and gamble, they were “closed”. That time the maintenance crews did all the cleaning. When it was docked, you were only allowed to board for the first 15 minutes of every hour; if you missed the boarding time then you had to wait 45 minutes until the next one, even though the boat was sitting right there. The only exceptions were if the Army Corp of Engineers (the managing entity for river traffic) said conditions were not suitable for it–if the river water level was too low, too high or there was a particularly high amount of barge traffic in the area. …Then they dropped the cruising requirement of the law entirely, and so now you can get on any time you want (I don’t hardly ever go so I’m not sure if you can still stay on 24 hours a day). In the St Louis area, the Casino Queen doesn’t usually cruise anymore, the Alton Belle still does I believe (I have seen it out when I was bicycling in the area) and the St Charles casinos never cruised at all, that I remember.

posted by DougC

      • The reasons have to do with the fact that current laws are based on much earlier federal laws governing the permission of gambling and the absence of various tax collection on ships in “international waters”.

I must disagree. This is just a political issue. Those against casino gambling often remind people of Atlantic City of the 1970s or Downtown Las Vegas of the 1980s; Poor High crime areas with casinos at their centers. Because of this most communities don’t want casinos in their “backyards.” That is the same reason that you don’t find casinos everywhere in America. I personally love gambling but I have to admit when I first when to an Atlantic City casino there didn’t seen to be another operating business within three blocks of the casino. When I first went to Vegas as I walked down the Strip, I asked a police officer how far it was to walk Downtown. He adviced against it as the area between the two was a long walk in a very dangerous area. Twenty years later, the area just behind the Strip (west side along the interstate) and east of Downtown(between El Cortez and the Western) I wouldn’t advice you to go without a bodyguard for your bodyguard.

The idea of riverboats was a way to get casino by selling them on historical “riverboats” and at the same time claiming that if a docking area became crime ridden the casino could just be moved somewhere else. The historical part would come up again when Montana decided to add Casino…aka Western Saloons. By the time Mississippi got casinos they had done away with the riverboat but still required that casinos be on water limiting them to the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. After Hurricane Katrina, the casinos in the Gulf Coast will most like push to be build on land, but will still be required to be limited to certain zone along the coastal areas.

Totally IMHO, but after having just visited Saratoga for the first time (during the Travers Stakes), I found myself longing for the genteel charms of Atlantic City and Vegas (not to mention the swank Foxwoods) in the face of the depressing cesspool of humanity I had to wade through at the racetrack. Gimme a casino any day.

My wife says she read in the paper this morning that Mississippi no longer requires the casinos to be on water. They will, however, be limited to the existing areas in Tunica county and the gulf coast.

Those Tunica casinos were really stretching the idea of “on water” anyway, because if I undertsand correctly, they are miles from Mississippi river (not the TN) and water is pumped under them.

When Missouri (and Iowa and Illinois) approved gambling, it was sold to voters as a tourist draw. Riverboats would cruise the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio and maybe a couple of other rivers, cruises would be relatively short and (at least in Missouri and Iowa) gamblers were limited to how much they could lose on a cruise.

In Missouri after the floods of 1993 the Coast Guard grumbled about having the boats cruise upstream a few miles, then spend a half hour turning around in the channel, then cruise back downstream. At that point the restriction that the boats actually cruise was lifted. One by one the rest of the restrictions have been eased. The “boats” don’t have to be seaworthy, the “river” can extend something like 1,000 feet either side of the channel and so on.

The industry, of course, would like to eliminate the “riverboat” fiction entirely, but there have been signs of a backlash. A proposal to allow gambling in the Branson area was soundly defeated by voters in 2004.

Don’t hold me to this, but I remember as a kid in the 1950’s going down the Potomac river on a cruise, getting off and playing slot machines on a pier which we accessed from the Virginia shore. But the river, up to high tide, was Maryland property, so the slots were legal.

This is perhaps a specialized case of water/gambling.

My understanding was that boats on the river (theoretically) fall under Federal jurisdiction a la Gibbons v Odgen thus a riverboat is not bound to state gaming laws.

But gaming statutes are by and large on the state level. In fact I think the only federal law is regarding Indian gaming, and that as I understand it authorizes states to enter into gaming compacts (I could be totally wrong about that of course).

If being in “Federal” waters took one out of state jurisdiction, no one would have had to go through all the trouble it took to get these things approved. During the campaigns to legalize riverboat gambling in Missouri (here’s the story ), I don’t recall any mention ever being made of any type of exemption from state law, in fact the collection of hefty taxes by the state was one of the key selling points of gambling proponents.

Keeping the gambling limited to riverboats meant mainly that St. Louis and Kansas City could have it, and the overwhelming majority of the rest of the state couldn’t. This was the only way to get the rural, conservative, and landlocked voters of most of the state to approve the measure.

In Mississippi, the state required casinos to be water-based because most of the navigable bodies of ewater were on the edges of the state, far from the population center at Jackson and other mid-sized towns. It was a compromise between the casino industry and religious groups that feared allowing land-based casinos would open the door to having them everywhere in the state.

Close, it was Maryland. There were slot machines in Southern Maryland about that time. My grandfather was from DC and he would drive down to Charles County to gamble. Here is a article about the current issue of slots in Maryland that includes some historical perspective on the issue. It’s from the Baltimore City Paper, the very same that carries The Straight Dope, so you know its valid. Side note: I used to take karate lessons in the Stardust that is mentioned in the article. The Walls bakery, refered to locally as the Wigwam, is nearby and also where every birthday cake I had between birth and 18 came from. I have never had anything from there that wasn’t superb.

For some reason, the water-based casinos, at least in Illinois on the Mississippi, had to also resort to the fiction that they were going to leave the dock at a certain time and return at a certain time. For a while, you could not go onto one of the boats after a certain time, while it was ostensibly touring out in the water, even though it was clearly attached to the land by substantial entry way lobbies, complete with elaborate chandeliers, lounge seating areas, etc. In fact, while you were on the “boat,” you could feel the motors running. Of course, if someone were on the boat while it was “out of port” they could just walk off and go home if they were done gambling. The casinos used to have clocks on the wall when you came in and it told you when the ship was going to depart (heh heh) and when it was going to come back. I, too, think the whole ruse was a way to get around the conflict between the anti-gambling folks and those who had no real objection (often the state and local governments that would profit greatly from the businesses.) What an innane set-up. “Pay no attention to that false boat out there in the water - it’s not a gambling establishement in our state, it’s a boat that just floats off shore and who knows what it’s doing.” sheesh


In other words, state territory covers rivers, too.

States have the power to legislate within their territory, as long as the legislation does not conflict with federal law. http://www.atg.wa.gov/opinions/1957-58/opinion_1957-58_200.html; http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=7th&navby=case&no=964185 (federal court applying state riverboat gambling law to gambling aboard a riverboat in that state’s territory); http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=US&vol=16&page=336 (Massachusetts had jurisdiction over murder committed aboard naval ship in Boston Harbor when there was no federal law in place).

As for international waters, it’s a little more complicated than that:

States and the Federal Government have concurrent jurisdiction over “marginal” or “territorial” seas. http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm00670.htm These extend 12 miles into the ocean from the low water mark. *Id. *; and see, UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Outside that limit, we’re in the high seas. On the high seas, the flag state has exclusive jurisdiction over its ships. Id. * Although sometimes the US takes jurisdiction anyway, and our courts have held that although this is a breach of a treaty, our courts can still decide the cases. http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/crm00670.htm (citing United States v. Postal*, 589 F.2d 862, 873 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 832 (1979)

It is my observation that when casino gambling is allowed in an area, it is encumbered with various restrictions. “You can have a casino, BUT it can only be open certain hours, offer certain games, provide entertainment, be on water, etc”. This strikes me as an attempt to mollify critics by pretending that the operations will be small and well regulated. However, as soon as the casinos are an important business in the area and start making substantial political contributions, those restrictions will be eroded or eliminated altogether.

Atlantic City is a case in point. Originally the casinos could not be open 24 hours a day and there were requirements about how much live entertainment they had to provide. Those requirements (and others) are gone. They haven’t been able to offer sports betting yet, but that will come.

I’ll hold you to it. Colonial Beach.

For a really good description of the town in its heyday, I’d recommend reading Florence King.