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State Regulators Approve Riverboat Casino's Request To Move Inland

Dec 26, 2019 04:48PM ● By Staff Writer
A conceptual rendering of the proposed front elevation for a new Eldorado casino in Lake Charles. 
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By David Jacobs | The Center Square

For the first time ever, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board on Thursday approved a “riverboat” casino’s request to move inland.

Regulators hope the owners of the Isle of Capri in Lake Charles will set a new standard for the state’s slumping gaming sector.

“I’d like to congratulate y’all for being number one and setting the bar,” Julie Berry, a Gaming Control Board member who represents the Lake Charles area, told company leaders. “I have to admit, I’d be a little scared to do this in the state of Louisiana.”

Louisiana’s riverboat casinos used to be legally required to cruise the state’s waterways, though managers often came up with excuses to stay dockside where they could make more money.

The cruising requirement was eliminated in 2001, but state law still said most casino facilities had to be housed in river-adjacent boats. Harrah’s New Orleans has operated the only truly “land-based” casino in the state.

Last year, lawmakers approved a bill by state Sen. Ronnie Johns that allows river-adjacent casinos to move inland by up to 1,200 feet. Not having to worry about maritime safety and maintaining large “boats” that don’t actually go anywhere would encourage owners to upgrade their facilities and expand their offerings, supporters hoped.  

Eldorado Resorts, which owns Isle of Capri, would be the first to take advantage of the change. They plan to invest between $100 million and $113 million in the new, 110,000-square-foot facility, company officials said, where they will employ 804 people compared to 735 employees today.

The new facility will have room for more non-gaming amenities, reflecting the recent industry trend in which non-gaming revenue exceeds casino winnings.

“It’s not just about slot machines and poker tables,” Board Chairman Ronnie Jones said. “I’m trying to help change that cultural perception in this state.”

Though some months are better than others for the various properties, the casino sector mostly has been on a downward trajectory in recent years. In November, casino revenue statewide was down about 1 percent compared to November 2018, while the Lake Charles market was down more than 4 percent and the Isle of Capri was down almost 11 percent.

Company officials say they have submitted the permits for the new building and expect approval by mid-January. Construction is expected to take about 15 months.

Eldorado is in the process of buying Caesars Entertainment. Officials expect to rename their Lake Charles property after completing the merger though a new brand has not been chosen.