The Business Report

Changes being sought to Louisiana gaming laws—like allowing riverboat casinos to move onto land—could help grow the Baton Rouge market, economic development officials said today.

Changing the rules regulating the casino game rests with the Legislature, but, regardless of what lawmakers might do, it appears the Baton Rouge market can sustain three casinos—a notion panned by many when L’Auberge entered the market five years ago.

Since then, adjusted gross revenues from casinos in East Baton Rouge Parish has grown by $92 million, according to figures tracked by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a reshuffling of the casino revenue deck. Hollywood Casino, in particular, has been hurt by the opening of L’Auberge, with its annual revenue declining from $122 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year to $67.3 million last year, a drop of $54.7 million.

So far, “every indication” is that Baton Rouge can continue to handle three casinos, says Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp.

Knapp told the Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force that allowing riverboats to move on land, relaxing the restrictions on the amount of gaming space and clearing the way for sports betting would have a positive economic impact on the region. The task force has not yet finalized any recommendations, and Knapp said BRAC hasn’t taken a position on them.

Even without those changes, he says the market is likely to remain healthy. Employment at casinos in Baton Rouge peaked in 2013 and has dropped by 381 since then. Still, the industry is forecasted to stabilize and maintain its current level of employees, which sits at around 1,890—500 more jobs than existed in 2011. Revenues have stayed steady in 2017 and, according to the latest count through October, are on track to outpace last year’s tally.

Ronnie Jones, chair of the task force and of the Gaming Control Board, says it is likely the task force will recommend some form of land-based gaming, which has already happened in many other states. That move could spur investments at the first-generation casinos, making them more competitive with L’Auberge. Executives at the Belle of Baton Rouge all but promised a move into the 50,000-square-foot atrium adjacent to the hotel if the rules are passed by the Legislature.

“My sense is Baton Rouge can sustain three properties,” Jones says. “Obviously the newer property is always going to be a tougher competitive piece for the other two more traditional boats.”

L’Auberge shook up the Baton Rouge market almost immediately after opening up. Last year, the facility took in an estimated $161 million, up from $122 million its first year of operation.