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Louisiana riverboat casinos could run aground after new law approved

Matthew McNulty

The days of riverboat casinos in Louisiana will soon be a thing of the past after the state’s Gaming Control Board approved its first application to relocate a riverboat casino to dry land, with the remaining riverboats set to follow suit in the near future, the Las Vegas Sun reports.

The board had approved an application filed by the owners of a Lake Charles-area riverboat 18 months after the legislature decided to allow riverboat casinos outside New Orleans proper to move their gambling operations out of the water and on to solid ground, according to the Sun.

The Advocate of Baton Rouge reported that Eldorado Resorts will be the first riverboat casino to be replaced with a new $112.7 million casino in the Westlake area of the city following the approval of their gaming board application.

The newly-approved casino will be almost triple the size of the riverboat casino, the Sun reports, which will allow for 120 more slot machines, seven more card and poker tables, as well as a VIP lounge and a handful of restaurants.

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In doing so, Eldorado Resorts has set a precedent for the 14 remaining riverboat casinos currently looking to move their gambling ventures out of the water and on to dry land, gaming board chairman Ronnie Jones told the Sun.

“This is a game changer,” said state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, who was the chief sponsor of the legislation that permits casinos to do away with riverboat casinos and move their gambling operations to shore within 1,200 feet of the waterway, according to the Sun.

State lawmakers legalized gambling in Louisiana 25 years ago, with Harrah's Casino in New Orleans being the only one allowed to operate on land. Meanwhile, other gambling sites had to operate out of riverboats, and gambling could only commence once the boat was sailing.

The move to dry land comes with a caveat, however, as the state looks to use the newly-landed casinos to boost revenues for Louisiana’s largest taxpayers, with the law requiring riverboats to deliver “economic development” in order to move their gambling operations on to land, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

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For the fiscal year ending June 30, Louisiana received $715 million in gambling taxes and another $712 million in severance and other related taxes, while the Sun reported that economists' project riverboat casino revenues to drop from $12.8 million last fiscal year to $8.6 million this year.

Eldorado Resorts executive chairman Gary Carano believes construction will begin by the end of January, and the project will create around 300 construction jobs, with the Sun noting the project should be completed in May 2021, according to the Sun.

Meanwhile, the shift from water to land will see about 22 employees lose their boat-related jobs, with that number expected to increase to upward of 70, according to the news outlet, with 735 employees working at the newly-constructed casino compared to 804 workers employed on the riverboat.

Louisiana joins Indiana in allowing riverboat casinos to move ashore, with the Hoosier State voting in support of the measure in 2015.

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