By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
LaGRANGE, Mo. -- The Missouri Gaming Commission has renewed the gaming license of Mark Twain Casino for four more years.
At a meeting Wednesday in Jefferson City, the commission voted unanimously to renew the license of the LaGrange gambling facility, which has operated for the past 11 1/2 years.
LeAnn McCarthy, public information officer for the MGC, said no major concerns were voiced during the deliberations.
Testifying in support of the casino were City Clerk Patty Spindler and LaGrange City Council member Conni Blessing. Both talked about the municipal improvements that have taken place in LaGrange over the years thanks to the city's share of gaming taxes and admission fees paid by the casino.
"We praised them for the money and thanked them for the support they do give LaGrange," Blessing told The Quincy Herald-Whig in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
"I told them the good things I felt the casino had done for the community," she said. "Nobody can deny what they've done."
In the casino's first 10 years of operation alone, the city of LaGrange received a total of $17.8 million in revenue, according to figures provided by the commission. That translates into an average of more than $1.7 million a year, which represents a significant portion of the city's annual operating budget of around $2.1 million.
Much of the city's casino revenue has been spent on various infrastructure projects. Chief among these was the construction of a $4 million wastewater treatment facility financed with $2.5 million in casino revenue and $1.5 million in grants.
The city also has invested significant amounts of casino revenue into water plant improvements, new water and sewer lines, sidewalk and street repairs, emergency warning sirens, decorative street lighting and various park improvements. The city also has expanded the Police Department and bought new squad cars, firetrucks and heavy equipment for the Public Works Department.
Grace Entertainment opened Mark Twain Casino on July 25, 2001. Following the death of owner William Grace, the casino was sold on Feb. 1, 2005, to Nevada-based Herbst Gaming Inc., an offshoot of the Terrible Herbst Oil Co. After Herbst took over, it changed the facility's name to Terrible's Mark Twain Casino. Herbst Gaming also acquired St. Jo Frontier Casino in St. Joseph at the same time.
In March 2009, Herbst Gaming filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions. According to gaming officials, the company emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31, 2010, as Herbst Gaming LLC. The company subsequently changed its name to Affinity Gaming LLC in May 2011. As a result, Mark Twain Casino no longer has "Terrible's" as part of its name.
Affinity's St. Joseph facility was also relicensed Wednesday.
Under a revised Missouri law, casino licenses must be renewed after the first two years of operation. That's why Affinity's license, first approved in 2011, had to be renewed again this year.
According to McCarthy, the company's renewed license is now good for four years. Under the previous gaming law, renewals were only good for two years.