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Board reverses decision on assessed value of River City Casino

River City Casino.
(via Wikimedia Commons/RamblingGambler)
River City Casino.

Updated at 5:20pm with comments from hearing, more details.

The board that hears appeals from St. Louis County taxpayers on the value of their home or business has reversed  its decision to reduce the value of River City Casino in Lemay.

County assessor Jake Zimmerman initially determined that River City was worth about $284 million. At a series of hearings in August, the County Board of Equalization lowered that to around $160 million. That meant millions of dollars less for local units of government in South County.

Zimmerman, and later County Executive Charlie Dooley, who appoints the board, called the decision outrageous. Dooley asked the board to reconsider its decision, which took place on Tuesday.

Today, the three-member board voted to restore the value of River City to about $270 million, the same level as last year.

That was some relief for Hancock Place Supt. Kevin Carl, who was preparing to request that his school board implement a 61-cent tax increase.

"It's going to be extremely difficult at best to articulate to the parents, to the grandparents, to all of the people in our community, that something has happened that has caused them to take on the burden of  this additional tax," he told the equalization board during its rehearing.  The reversal did not totally eliminate the need for a tax increase, but Carl says it's likely to be closer to a few cents.

River City, which disputed its 2010 tax bill, did not say if they would contest the current assessed value at the state level.

The Board of Equalization did not change the assessed value for Harrah's in Maryland Heights. Zimmerman, the assessor, had determined the 14-year-old casino was worth more than $500 million - more than four times its 2010 level. In August, the board valued Harrah's at $215 million, a number it stuck with after Tuesday's rehearing. Harrah's has the right appeal that value to the state Tax Commission.

Zimmerman says he decided to use a method that more accurately reflects the fact that a casino's value doesn't come from the property on which it sits.

"Nationally-recognized casino valuation experts say that the best way to figure out the best way a casino is worth, the best way to figure out what MGM might by it for if they put it up for sale, is to figure out how much they're making off the blackjack tables," Zimmerman said.

The entire dispute has led one County Councilman to request the state auditor review the process. Steve Stenger, whose 6th District includes River City, does not say why he wants the investigation, which Zimmerman says he welcomes.

"Part of accountability is letting people see how the sausage gets made," Zimmerman said. "We will share documents with the public as openly and freely as we can."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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