JEFFERSON CITY _ The first Christmas for Missouri's floating casinos was a very merry one.
More than 40,000 gamblers flocked to the state's six gaming boats on Dec. 25. Only about half as many people boarded riverboat casinos on a regular day before slot machines became legal Dec. 9.
"We were very busy on Christmas Day," said Mike Shebick, vice president and general manager of Casino St. Charles. "A lot of our customers had expressed a desire to see slots. We knew there was a very strong demand. It's been verified."
Clearly, slots are drawing a growing number of gamblers to Missouri floating casinos, generating millions of dollars for state coffers.
Under a provision passed by Missouri voters, that money is earmarked for education.
By law, one-fifth of the money casinos make from gamblers is sent to the state. Ninety percent of those tax dollars is earmarked for education, with the rest collected by the local community.
In addition, each casino also pays one dollar to the state and one dollar to local governmental bodies for every gambler that comes on board.
Admissions jumped more than 50 percent after games of chance were legalized, the state Gaming Commission reported.
About 1.2 million gamblers boarded the boats in December. The trend continued in January, with total attendance topping 1 million by Jan. 24.
"We've seen attendance go up by 500,000 people a month since December," said Robert Kalt, a senior economist with the Office of Administration.
The revenue generated through riverboat gambling should exceed the initial, conservative estimate by $40 million, he said.
The state expects gaming will generate $52.5 million _ the equivalent of about one percent of the state's general revenue _ in the year following the launch of Missouri's first gaming boat last May 27.
And revenue generated from the boats could continue to increase. The Gaming Commission could approve as many as five more floating casinos by mid-1996, Kalt said.
Plans to float two more boats are currently under investigation _ the last step in the licensing process.
If approved, one of the two new gaming boats would dock in the Bootheel town of Caruthersville. The other would become the third floating casino operating in the Kansas City area.
Once the Gaming Commission approves or rejects those two plans, the state will investigate three more of the 19 proposals currently vying for acceptance, Kalt said.
Recent figures also show that the average loss per gambler has remained stable even after games of chance were legalized.
Riverboat gamblers lost an average of $23.57 each in the first three and one-half weeks of January.
"What you see is a lot of people stepping on with $20," Kalt said. "Some lose hundreds, others win, but the average person loses between $20 and $25."
Only $12.5 million in riverboat gambling revenue was budgeted toward education this fiscal year _ leaving $40 million unspent for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
In in budget recommendations, Gov. Mel Carnahan proposes that unspent $40 million be spent next fiscal year for capital improvements at higher education institutions.
Next year, the governor's budget office estimates the state will collect $80 million from riverboat gambling.
Carnahan proposes all of that money be allocated to primary and secondary education.