Riverboat casino move needed for Louisiana ‘to remain competitive’

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Last week, CasinoBeats reported on recommendations of a legislative task force in the US state of Louisiana that the state’s iconic riverboat casinos should be permitted to develop land-based gambling venues.

The Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force said that permitting Louisiana’s 15 riverboat casinos to develop on land with 1,200ft of their berth would boost the industry.

With a likely bill still months away, CasinoBeats talked to Kelly Duncan, co-chair of the Gaming Industry Team at Jones Walker in New Orleans, Louisiana, and a Past President of the International Masters of Gaming Law.

CB: How likely do you think it is that these recommendations will become law?

KD: “Riverboat casino gaming has been allowed in the state for more than 25 years. During that time, the citizens of Louisiana have come to recognise significant economic development generated by the state’s 15 riverboat casinos. They employ nearly 15,000 workers and contribute more than $400m in net gaming revenue to the state. Additionally, the capital investment and substantial purchase of goods and services in the state by riverboat casinos has a significant positive impact on the economy of Louisiana.

“Given the state’s current fiscal challenges, the importance of ensuring that riverboat casinos continue to be significant contributors to the financial health of the state cannot be ignored. The proposal to permit riverboat casinos to move inland within 1,200ft of their current berths is not an expansion of gaming and is needed to remain competitive with neighbouring Mississippi, which since Hurricane Katrina, has permitted its riverboat casinos to move 800ft inland. As such, I anticipate that the state legislature will give strong consideration to adopting this recommendation of the Task Force.”

Does the riverboat casino industry in Louisiana need this additional stimulation?

“The casino gaming industry continues to get more competitive not only from the standpoint of new states embracing casino gaming as a means by which to generate economic development and raise badly needed revenue but because states with gaming already in place continue to allow more casinos.

“Additionally, tribal gaming continues to expand in Oklahoma which, combined with unlimited casino gaming in Mississippi, creates significant competition for Louisiana riverboat casinos seeking to attract patrons from within and outside of Louisiana.”

Opponents will no doubt say this kind of change is the “tip of the iceberg” but is the state likely to support continued growth beyond the initial ‘coming ashore’?

“It depends what you mean by ‘continued growth’. A sound argument can be made that the proposal to allow riverboat casinos to move inland up to 1,200 feet from their current berths is not an expansion of gaming.”

…but might this move expedite any move towards legalised sports betting and/or online real-money gaming in the state?

“It is difficult to determine to what extent the limited recommendations of the Task Force will influence the state legislature to consider legalised sports betting if the Supreme Court decision expected later this year opens that door. Given the number of states lining up with bills to allow sports betting if a favourable Supreme Court decision is rendered, it will be important for Louisiana to strongly consider doing so. This is particularly the case if Mississippi decides to allow sports betting. A failure to do so could place Louisiana at a significant competitive disadvantage relative to nearby states that allow sports betting.

“However, recognising the resistance that Louisiana legislators have to online gaming (as evidenced by the Gambling by Computer statute, which, with limited exceptions, prohibits online gaming), if a bill to allow sports betting is introduced, it would not be surprising if such a bill limits such wagering to patrons physically present at one of the state’s licensed casinos.”