Like many others who have tried their luck in Las Vegas, Miss America is coming home a little lighter in the pocketbook.

Expensive productions have helped the pageant to lose money three of the past four years, according to newspaper archives and a Press analysis of the last three years of publicly available tax records.

The Miss America Organization is required by federal law to disclose its last three years of tax returns because it is a nonprofit. It exists to provide scholarships for women, its returns state, while promoting community service.

The pageant seems to be directly paying out less than half of the scholarships it did in 2004, the last year the pageant was held in Atlantic City. Its tax return showed it provided $462,600 in scholarships in 2011, down from $964,462 in 2004 and more than $1 million in 2002 and 2003.

Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan received $52,000 in scholarships, by far the largest that year, according to the organization’s website. All of the contestants received at least $3,000 for winning their state championship and reaching the Las Vegas finals.

Arthur W. McMaster, the pageant president and CEO said Thursday night that the Miss America organization paid more than $48 million in scholarships last year, between the national and state organizations.

The pageant restructured its finances several years ago, McMaster said. He said The Community Foundation of New Jersey now oversees many of Miss America’s assets and scholarship responsibilities, McMaster said, although this is not mentioned on Miss America’s most recent tax returns.

The Community Foundation is a nonprofit based in Morristown, Morris County, that works as a clearinghouse for other nonprofits, according to its 2010 tax return. It reported almost $48 million in revenue and had almost $193 million in assets.

Its website lists more than 100 scholarships and funds it is responsible for, including the Miss America Scholarship Fund, but its tax returns do not specify the assets or liabilities of any of these funds. It was not clear Thursday night how sizable they were.

Miss America’s tax returns indicate its assets have fallen more than 30 percent over the past three years to $503,400. Before the pageant left Atlantic City, its assets had plummeted from $12 million in 1999 to $3.6 million in 2004. McMaster disputed that analysis, saying many of the assets had been turned over to the Community Foundation of New Jersey in recent years.

The pageant’s most recent television deal with ABC required it to buy access on prime time television, and then sell ads to pay the cost. McMaster would not say how much the pageant paid for the air time.

Success with ad sales helped Miss America’s overall revenue rise about 50 percent over the past three years, reaching $8 million in 2011. The revenue was $5.8 million in 2010 and $5.4 million in 2009. What the tax forms list “pageant revenue,” which McMaster said included ad sales, accounted for more than $5.6 million in 2011. McMaster said the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority provided some assistance with site fees and other costs.

But expenses also shot up by nearly 50 percent to $8.2 million in 2011. Preparing and having the pageant accounted for almost $4.8 million of that cost, with nearly $4 million of that tied to the cost of television production.

That is nearly double 2009’s $2.2 million production costs, when the pageant was on the TLC cable channel and Miss America did not have to pay for television access.

Salaries were another $1.2 million in costs, with more than 20 percent of that going to McMaster, 59, of Sewell, Gloucester County, according to the tax returns. He received $252,136 in 2011, an increase of more than 16 percent over the past three years, and more than 50 percent since 2004.

Other top paid employees included Vice President Sharon E. Pearce, 51, of Ventnor, the longtime communications director, who was paid $123,194, and Kirk A. Ryder, 46, of Las Vegas, a former Broadway dancer who served as the pageant’s field marketing director and received $103,715, the returns show.

Overall, however, salaries declined by almost 11 percent over the past three years, files show. Board Chairman Sam Haskell III and the rest of the 14-member board of directors were unpaid. Unspecified corporate partner expenses accounted for another $1 million.

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