All Ashore for Louisiana Riverboats

Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards has signed a bill that allows the state’s 15 riverboat casinos, including the Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge (l.), to move 1,200 feet from their designated berths and offer 30,000 square feet of gambling space.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed legislation allowing the state’s 15 riverboat casinos to move ashore and expand operations.

Under Senate Bill 316, riverboat casinos can move inland from their designated berth space by 1,200 feet, the length of four football fields. The bill passed by one vote.

Wade D. Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association, said, “Not everyone will make the move all at once.” He noted it will take at least six months for the first few casinos to file applications with the Gaming Control Board.

And massive casino/hotel resorts like L’Auberge Baton Rouge, constructed over watery sloughs to technically comply with state law, will have to wait six months before they can legally switch off their circulating paddle wheels.

Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones said it could be two months before regulations are written outlining designs, financing, amenities, application procedures and other details in regard to moving ashore. Then those rules must go through public hearings before approval.

SB316 also allows 30,000 square feet of gambling space per boat instead of 2,365 gaming positions. Jones said the new regulations will have to clarify how that number is counted. “We’re talking about $500 million, $600 million, to build a first-class facility. They’re not going to be allowed to move slot machines into some warehouse space,” said state Senator Ronnie Johns, who is being considered as the new chairman of the Gaming Control Board.

Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge already filed a permit to move onto land and spend $21 million to $25 million to expand its current dockside facility to include 106,209 square feet gaming space. The riverboat’s 859 slot machines and 12 table games will be moved into the current atrium. The plans also will feature a 250-seat sports bar/entertainment venue, sports viewing area and a Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken Restaurant. The sports bar or the viewing area eventually could become a sportsbook.

Casino Queen in East St. Louis, Illinois is in the process of buying Hollywood. The deal is set to close in the second half of the year, pending regulatory approval.

Riverboat gambling in 2017 generated $419.2 million in taxes and fees for Louisiana. Harrah’s New Orleans, the state’s only land-based casino, contributed $60 million of that total.

Johns said gambling interests pay more to the state than any other industry with no tax breaks or other financial incentives that routinely given by taxpayers to manufacturers, oil and chemical concerns.