ST. LOUIS — The economy may be struggling, but Missouri's casinos are still going strong.
The latest figures from the Missouri Gaming Commission show that overall casino gambling revenue rose 7 percent in July to $146.9 million, up from $136.9 million in July 2007.
The casinos continue to do well even as Missouri's jobless rate remains high. The state's June unemployment rate hit a three-year high of 6 percent in May before dropping slightly to 5.7 percent in June, the most recent figure available.
"Casinos were considered some time ago to be recession-proof," Gene McNary, executive director of the Gaming Commission, said Tuesday. "They're not. But the casinos themselves are pretty strong."
McNary noted that a large percentage of casino gamblers in Missouri are senior citizens on fixed income who set aside a certain percentage of money for entertainment - and gambling is that entertainment.
The Lumiere Place casino in St. Louis, which opened in December, had a revenue of $14.3 million last month. That still falls short of the St. Louis market leader, Ameristar in St. Charles, whose revenue of $26.7 million was a 6 percent improvement over last year.
The big loser was another downtown St. Louis casino, the President. It's revenue declined 75 percent to $1.4 million - not surprising since the casino that sits directly on the Mississippi River was closed for half of July because of the flood.
Also down in the St. Louis region was Harrah's in Maryland Heights, where revenue dropped 7 percent. Still, gamblers spent $26 million there, a close second to Ameristar in St. Charles.
Overall, the four Missouri casinos in the St. Louis area saw admissions rise 21 percent and gross revenue rise 16 percent in July compared to a year earlier.
Lumiere's impact on the St. Louis casino market has exceeded expectations, McNary said, noting a study performed by the University of Missouri-St. Louis projected the new casino would grow the market by 2 percent. Instead, revenue has grown about 10 percent since Lumiere Place opened, he said.
Statewide, the biggest gainer was the Mark Twain casino in northeast Missouri's La Grange, whose revenue increased 14 percent in July. The casino was closed for nearly two weeks in late June because of the Mississippi River flooding but reopened July 1.
"Maybe people didn't have a chance to gamble in June and saved their money to gamble in July," McNary said.
Two of the state's other small-town casinos had modest revenue growth - 1 percent at Lady Luck in the Missouri Bootheel town of Caruthersville and 3 percent at Isle of Capri in Boonville. Terrible's St. Jo Frontier Casino in St. Joseph saw a revenue decline of 7 percent.
In the Kansas City market, Ameristar remained the leader with revenue of $22.4 million, up 2 percent. Argosy saw a 6 percent gain to $16.5 million to move ahead of Harrah's in North Kansas City, where revenue declined 7 percent to $16.4 million. Isle of Capri in Kansas City saw a 1 percent decline to $6.9 million.