When the Isle of Capri-Boonville casino closed for most of three days in June, the number of people visiting that month dropped dramatically, down 11 percent from June 2017.
The casino’s revenues, however, weren’t hit badly because every person who did visit lost, on average, $5.79 more than visitors did the previous year. That result mirrors a long-term trend of fewer visitors but higher casino revenue from each person, helping stabilize city revenue from Boonville’s largest private employer.
Tax revenue from the Isle of Capri Casino accounts for about 25 percent of Boonville’s $14 million budget for 2018.
The city receives $1 for every person entering the casino and 10 percent of the taxes paid to the state on gambling losses.
Gaming tax revenue has been a major contributor to the city’s budget since the casino opened in 2001. The $3.42 million the city receives from gaming taxes and admissions allows the city to do major projects that may not otherwise be possible. Every year, the city looks at one big project to be funded through gaming tax revenue. This year’s project is the Boonville soccer fields which are being installed next to the high school at a cost of $428,000.
Boonville City Administrator Irl Tessendorf explained how the $3.42 million was dispersed. He said $680,000 went into general operations for police, fire and the parks department, while $916,300 was used for debt on past projects, like the aquatics center, airport hangars and a fire department station. These debt payments will continue for another eight years.
Several agencies and cities received a combined $142,000 from gaming funding for assisting the city. The Cooper County Sheriff’s Office received $40,000, and the Cooper County prosecuting attorney’s office was awarded $27,000. Current projects in water, wastewater and the parks department, such as replacing small equipment, miscellaneous items and the soccer field project made up the other $1.75 million. The funds are also spent on infrastructure projects, like the water and sewer systems, streets and alleys.
Boonville Mayor Ned Beach said the quality of these services would diminish without casino funding. “We would be able to do the bare necessities,” he said. “That’s what I see. It’s been that way since the early 2000s.”
The casino keeps utility rates low, as $194,000 of wastewater projects are paid from the $3.42 million. Water department projects that were funded through the casino totaled $162,250.
If not for the casino, ratepayers would have likely seen an increase in their utility bills, he said.
For street improvements, revenue from the casino pays 50 percent of the $700,000 cost.
Because the city relies on the casino, a contingency item of $130,000 was included in the gaming projects budget to protect the city from losing this funding for a year. If something were to happen, that caused the casino to close, the city would still receive what it had in the past, Tessendorf said.
These public benefits are one of the reasons the city wanted to bring in the casino. Beach said smaller cities that don’t have a casino cannot provide the same type of infrastructure like Boonville.
“We don’t take it for granted. We can support police, fire and make sure our sewer infrastructure is up to date,” Beach said. “I certainly would call it a blessing.”
Tessendorf said Boonville would not be the same city without the casino.
“It’s huge. It’s fair to say the city government would be different,” he said. “The service level would change, and the number of projects would decrease. Taxes might go up.”
In the year that ended June 30, the city received $1.6 million from admission fees and $1.7 million of the $16.8 million in state taxes.
Admission fee revenue has been steadily declining while the taxes on gambling revenue have remained nearly steady because each visitor is, on average, losing more money. For the year ending June 30, the casino reported a 7 percent decline in admissions and a 2 percent decline in revenue. Since fiscal 2013, admissions at the Isle of Capri have decreased 21.2 percent while gambling revenues for the company are down 2 percent.
Tessendorf acknowledged that for the past few years, its gaming funding has decreased by 1 to 1.5 percent each year. However, he said a 1 percent drop, which amounts to a $20,000 loss, is not a big concern, as the city still receives well in excess of $3 million from the casino. He added business at the casino often varies slightly year-to-year.