LOUIS, Missouri - Nearly six months ago, a team of
Pinnacle Entertainment's top executives engaged in a freewheeling
discussion during a first-quarter earnings conference
call about the future of their new $400 million Laclede's
Landing casino-development project.
after Steve Capp, the company's chief financial officer,
bid good morning and offered a "couple of quick words
on the balance sheet and liquidity," one unidentified
company representative addressed a key component of the
lavish complex that has received scant attention: a 1,000-foot-long
pedestrian tunnel connecting downtown to the casino.
when 65,000 people let out of a Rams game," the rep
began. "We are building a pedestrian tunnel that
goes right next to that stadium. If 10 percent of the
people come out of that stadium and want to go to our
casino, that's 6,500 people.
purposely placed our casino between that Rams stadium
and a lot of its parking. So people will come through
our tunnel headed for their parking, [and] find out that
we have put slot machines in their way, and so they get
rid of the loss limit."
bottom line: This tunnel, the company official suggested,
can't help but increase casino attendance and, by doing
so, might very well offset the effect of Missouri's $500
loss-limit law. The 1992 gaming statute was enacted as
a way of protecting compulsive gamblers by restricting
their losses to $500 over a two-hour period.
loss-limit law -- the only one of its kind in the United
States -- was actually proposed by the casino industry.
But in recent years, Pinnacle and other gambling concerns
have pressed for its repeal, arguing that the chip-buying
limit is driving gaming enthusiasts to other states.
all goes according to plan, the tunnel will begin near
America's Center, a block north of Washington Avenue,
travel below Interstate 70 and then rise into "a
kind of mezzanine-like area that overlooks the casino,"
says Pinnacle spokesman Mack Bradley.
"That will have direct access to some of the little
shops and retail on the second level."
arriving at the end of the line, customers can choose
to head outdoors to visit the Landing or, more important
to Pinnacle, make a beeline for the slot machines.
to Bradley, company engineers have examined the pathway
and are satisfied they've found one clear of sewer and
utility lines, although a precise route has yet to be
finalized. Since no tunnels currently exist in that area,
a new one must be built. How deep it might be has yet
to be determined.
which owns and operates casinos in Nevada, Mississippi,
Louisiana, Indiana and Argentina, hopes the "pedestrian
connection," as the company calls it, will beckon
gamblers otherwise unwilling to traverse one of the most
pedestrian-unfriendly zones in the city straight into
its pleasure palace.
it's easy to go from place to place," theorizes Pinnacle
president Wade Hundley, "people will certainly do
that, and we kind of sit in the center of it all. The
connection from that side of the highway to Laclede's
Landing -- if we can just get people to walk through our
facility, we're all going to benefit from that."
the Las Vegas-based gaming company considered a pedestrian
bridge, says Rodney Crim, executive director of the St.
Louis Development Corporation, which has given its tentative
blessing for the project. "But you would still cross
under the freeway. That wasn't as appealing or, they thought,
attractive to people trying to come over from one side
to the other."
was Pinnacle's chief executive officer, Daniel R. Lee,
who gave birth to the tunnel idea. "It was one of
those moments when everyone went, 'Oh...yeah!'" recalls
Bradley. Pinnacle will pay for the entire project, which
Crim estimates will cost $10 million.
says the tunnel is vital to Pinnacle's interests -- that
if the company is going to spend that kind of money, it
wants to provide gamblers easy and unimpeded access to
the casino. "It was clear right away, and it's no
secret to anyone else in town, what a barrier Interstate
70 is between the riverfront area and the whole rest of
the city," he says.
shirks off questions as to whether the $10 million might
be better used to improve the concrete morass above ground,
saying only, "The nice thing is, they're footing
completed in 2007, the development -- which is planned
to include the casino, a Four Seasons hotel, restaurants,
retailers and residential properties -- will consume eleven
acres and extend from Interstate 70 to the Mississippi
architectural drawings have not been finalized, Bradley
says the company imagines a gazebo-style entrance that
descends into a clean, well-lit walkway similar to the
people-movers at O'Hare International Airport. It will
carry visitors straight into the complex, without any
you enter the western end of [the tunnel], you'll be inside,
and be at the other end before you know it," says
Bradley. "The experience has to be a pleasant one."
stresses that once Pinnacle completes the design, it will
face the usual bureaucratic scrutiny, including a review
by all concerned city departments and an environmental-impact
study. Because the tunnel will travel beneath the highway,
the Missouri Department of Transportation must also sign
off on the project. So far, no one's hackles have been
raised by the underground pathway.
the tunnel gets the green light, Pinnacle may have solved
a problem that has long dogged riverfront advocates, says
"The $64,000 question is: How do you get people into
the area? Once they're in the area, they'll figure out
what they want to do, and there's lots of stuff to do.
But you have to get them there."