New casino appears to skew riverboat revenues

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 | 8:28 p.m. CST; updated 9:59 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 11, 2008

KANSAS CITY — October riverboat gambling revenues rose 4 percent statewide over the same month a year ago, but that number was likely skewed by a new St. Louis casino that wasn't included in last year's tally.

Patronage at the casinos also was up in the final month before the repeal of the state's loss limits, but that was likely bolstered by Lumiere Place casino, which opened in December.

Without the $12.6 million reported by Lumiere Place, casino revenues for the month would be down about 6.4 percent statewide, though much of the money lost at Lumiere might have gone to other St. Louis-area riverboats. Without Lumiere's attendance numbers, ridership statewide would be down about 8.3 percent.

Overall, gamblers lost nearly $131 million to the boats in October, with a statewide per-patron loss of $69.26.

In Kansas City, where casinos already are jittery about expanded gambling across the state line in Kansas, revenues dropped 3.5 percent from their year-ago levels and about 50,000 fewer people walked through the turnstiles during the month.

In its monthly report, the Missouri Gaming Commission said only one of the state's 12 casinos, the Argosy in the Kansas City suburb of Riverside, showed an increase in patrons. One casino stayed about the same and nine saw a decline while Lumiere Place did not have numbers to compare.

The Argosy is one of only three casinos that reported an increase in revenues over October 2007, with a 3 percent rise. The other two are small-market riverboats in LaGrange, which saw a 9 percent increase, and in St. Joseph with a 2 percent increase.

Harrah's in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights had the biggest October revenues at $23.25 million, but that's 8 percent lower than during the same month last year. The casino's patrons lost an average of $80.15 per visit, which also is the state's highest.

A week after Missouri voters approved a measure removing the state's unique loss limits, gambling officials say it's too soon to know whether there has been any effect. Casinos were notified Friday morning by the state that the caps had been removed, effective immediately after Election Day.

While pushing Proposition A, which removed the $500 loss limit per two-hour excursion, proponents pointed to an estimate by the state auditor's office that eliminating the cap would bring in an additional $105 million to $130 million in new money for schools.

That was before the economy went into a nosedive.

"We're not different than other industries,'' said Michael Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, adding that people would be able to reevaluate whether or not they want to visit casino properties.

He said it's also too early to know whether projections for increased revenues with the passage of Proposition A will be realized because they were made earlier in the year when the economy wasn't so bleak.

"When the proposal was put together, there were some anticipated admission increases, people we thought we were losing to other jurisdictions either because of the loss limits or player's card. It's going to take some time for those things to play out,'' Winter said.

Rebecca Theim, a spokeswoman for Ameristar Casinos Inc., said the company was "holding its own in a very tough marketplace.'' October revenues dropped 4 percent at its St. Charles casino, from $23.1 million last year to $22.2 million this year, and 5 percent in Kansas City, from $19.8 million a year ago to $18.8 million this year.

"One of the things we've worked very hard on is being proactive and nimble in this economy,'' she said. "That doesn't mean we haven't felt it profoundly.''

She said part of the decline was expected after the company decided to pare its promotions budget because of the economy.

While promoting Proposition A, supporters warned that the state was at an economic disadvantage to other states that didn't have loss limits and didn't require their patrons to get an identification card to keep track of their losses.

Looming in that discussion was Kansas, which approved casino gambling last year. The $680 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino complex at Kansas Speedway, slated to open in 2011, is considered a significant threat to siphon revenue from four Kansas City-area casinos.

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Ray Shapiro November 12, 2008 | 3:28 p.m.

Close them all down!

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