By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Casinos in Missouri are performing even worse this summer than in 2012, reflecting a general decline in patronage at the state's 13 riverboat gambling sites.
Gambling revenues for July were at $141.3 million - a decline of more than $9.5 million, or 6.3 percent, from the same month last year. That means the state will have nearly $2 million less in gambling taxes to spend on education, and the amount of money paid to local governments from casino admission fees will be down.
Despite the promotional lure of $500 write-offs for new casino members, plenty of empty chairs could be found Tuesday morning on the sprawling casino floor of Lumiere Place on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Blackjack and poker dealers chatted idly, and a room reserved for high-stakes wagering sat empty.
Jennifer Bruns, a tax audit manager with the Missouri Gaming Commission, said the gambling industry really suffered during the broader economic downturn.
"We've seen a downward spiral," Bruns said. "People are spending money on other things."
Federal data showed a 7.4 percent national unemployment rate in July - a 4 1/2 year low, but still above the 5 percent to 6 percent found in a healthy economy. U.S. consumer spending remained modest, while the housing market's long recovery continued.
In the year to June 30, Missouri reported total casino revenues of $1.74 billion. That's a $50.3 million decrease from the previous year. And the state's casinos attracted 1.37 million fewer patrons in fiscal year 2013 compared to a year earlier.
Lumiere Place in downtown St. Louis, owned by Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., reported the steepest revenue decline last month, at 18 percent. Kansas City's Ameristar recorded a 10 percent revenue drop.
The Federal Trade Commission on Monday said Pinnacle must sell Lumiere within six months to dispel antitrust concerns arising from its planned merger with Ameristar Casinos. If the deadline isn't met, the Ameristar casino in St. Charles must be sold instead.
Pinnacle Chief Executive Anthony Sanfilippo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in late July that the company expected to reach a deal to sell Lumiere Place and its two on-site hotels, saying the company has multiple potential buyers. Kerry Andersen, a spokeswoman for the Las Vegas-based company on Tuesday referred inquiries to Pinnacle's Missouri office, which in turn declined comment, citing federal restrictions on discussing pending transactions.
In the fiscal year 2012, which ended on June 30, only the River City Casino in south St. Louis County reported revenue gains compared to the previous year - and just barely, with a 1 percent increase.
Elsewhere in the state, fiscal year 2012 revenue drops ranged from 2 percent at the Isle of Capri in Boonville, the Mark Twain in LaGrange and the Ameristar in St. Charles, to a 15 percent decline at the Argosy in Riverside. The Isles of Capri casino in Cape Girardeau, which opened in October 2012, reported only partial year revenues.
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