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Howard Stutz

Ameristar may seek Missouri license

1 June 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Ameristar Casinos has not formally said it was interested in acquiring a soon-to-be available Missouri gaming license. But the operator's actions place it smack into the middle of the debate.

Las Vegas-based Ameristar, which already operates two Missouri casinos, suggested the license owned by the President Casino should be transferred from downtown St. Louis to the southeastern city of Cape Girardeau.

Ameristar told the Missouri Gaming Commission a casino in Cape Girardeau could generate $23.5 million in annual tax revenues.

"The commission understood this was new revenue, not revenue already captured by another Missouri casino," Ameristar Senior Vice President Troy Stremming said.

The company based its opinion on an independent financial analysis it conducted on the Missouri market, which now has 13 casinos.

Pinnacle Entertainment will close the aging President this summer and give the license back to the state. Some 15 parties, including Ameristar rival Isle of Capri Casinos, have expressed interest in the license.

Cape Girardeau, a city of 100,000, is across from Illinois on the Mississippi River. It is 80 miles east from the nearest Missouri casino in tiny Caruthersville. Metropolis, Ill., where Harrah's Entertainment owns a casino, is 65 miles away.

Cape Girardeau is 117 miles south of St. Louis, 173 miles north of Memphis, Tenn., and 209 miles east of Nashville, Tenn. Ameristar believes gaming in the city would draw from a wide area. Adding a new casino to St. Louis or Kansas City could oversaturate those markets.

Ameristar estimated that gaming tax revenues generated by a Cape Girardeau casino would be two to three times higher than if the license were transferred to suburbs of St. Louis or Kansas City, where other casino companies have proposed locating a riverboat casino.

Not coincidently, Ameristar operates resorts in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles and Kansas City. Stremming all but admitted the company didn't want more competition.

Missouri regulators asked parties seeking the President's license to submit economic impact studies for their proposals. Ameristar supplied the first analysis. Ameristar has not, however, launched a formal bid for the license. Yet.

"We're not closing the door on anything," Stremming said.

Cape Girardeau has submitted a letter of interest. Stremming said Ameristar executives have not discussed the project with city officials.

Other parties have until July 15 to submit economic studies. Missouri won't award the license until Sept. 1, meaning a long, hot summer waits as the process plays out.