Since opening in September 2012, L’Auberge has dominated the Baton Rouge casino market. The casino’s monthly earnings far exceed the revenue generated by two downtown riverboats: the Belle of Baton Rouge and the Hollywood Casino.
The Inn is more like gambling resorts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Shreveport/Bossier City or Lake Charles. Instead of players stepping onto a riverboat packed with slots and table games, the activity takes place on a gambling barge that’s indistinguishable from the rest of the property. This turned Baton Rouge into a gambling destination.
While the two downtown riverboats brought in about $13 million a month, Baton Rouge’s three casinos brought in between $20 million and $25 million a month.
The casino continued to make updates. A second smoking terrace opened this year, giving players more opportunities to play slots or table games without stopping for a cigarette break.
One of the biggest changes to the property is underway, transforming the former Stadium Sports Bar & Grill into a Barstool Sportsbook. The $6.7 million renovation, which is expected to be completed in November, will create the first permanent sportsbook at a Baton Rouge casino.
Kim Ginn, the general manager of L’Auberge since October 2018, recently spoke to The Advocate about the casino, how business has been post-COVID and the impact of inflation on property. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What kind of changes have you seen in the casino market here in the last 10 or so years since L’Auberge opened?
Probably the biggest one I’ve seen is when we became smoke-free in East Baton Rouge Parish in June 2018. It was a big change for us. This caused our income to drop about 15%, especially since it was just East Baton Rouge Parish and not other surrounding areas. Penn National Gaming, our parent company, has invested over $10 million in capital in two smoking terraces for us, which are beautiful places. They offer customers the opportunity to play slot machines and tables in an outdoor smoking environment. So we were able to recover about half of what we lost by becoming non-smokers.
What kind of impact has COVID had on the casino in 2021?
COVID has certainly been a challenge for us in 2020. But 2021 has been a great year, as you’ve seen in many businesses with market stimulus funds, staycations, regional travel. We were really kind of the prime location for that.
In terms of non-gaming activities, such as dining and entertainment, how has 2021 fared?
2021 was kind of a tale of two cities. At the beginning of 2021, you went in and out of COVID. By July, non-gaming was no longer lagging behind. The restaurants were at capacity and we brought back concerts in July. And we saw our banquet and catering business, which is a big business for us, really start to pick up in the second half of 2021. I would say everything was back to full steam and we’re back to growth, even with people who do not travel quite as far, stay more regional by making stays.
The other thing that I think all casinos have found that’s really interesting is that if you remember with COVID we had a lot of spacing restrictions from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. So we learned that where we had 1,400 slots on the boat, we now probably have 1,100. We found that you could space them out more, keep your best machines, and not really see a drop in revenue or just satisfaction.
Who is the typical person who comes to play at L’Auberge?
It’s really more of a regional destination. Approximately 60% of our clientele comes from East Baton Rouge and the nine surrounding parish areas. Another 40% comes from outside of that – Lafayette, New Orleans, the North Shore. Of that 40%, 12-15% come from out of state. Some of that is from a passing traveler, but a lot of it is we’re nurturing guests and clients from all over the United States and flying them in or they’re coming to visit.
And what’s great is that when we bring them, we don’t just bring them to the property, but we take them to Houmas House, we take them to eat at Gino’s, we take them to Tiger Stade. So they discover all that Baton Rouge has to offer.
Downtown riverboats are somehow looking to go on land. How do you see this competition evolving?
We are certainly excited about Baton Rouge and the economy of the surrounding area. We welcome Baton Rouge to be more of a gaming destination. We believe this can only help attract more customers to this region.
How does inflation affect casino business?
Over the past three months, we have seen that the price of gasoline, rising grocery prices and rising energy bills have impacted a segment of our customer base. We see it in what I call a retail customer, someone who is a casual gamer. Someone who could choose to go play rather than go to the movies and that’s a disposable income choice.
Our way to fight it is to control our expenses, our labor, our marketing and adapt the business according to the income we get. It’s not exactly a type of market or a time when you can put out more deals and think you’re going to fetch more revenue.
What does sports betting represent for L’Auberge? What sort of increase in activity have you seen as a result?
Compared to slot machines and tables, sports betting represents a small portion of any casino’s revenue or business. But we were delighted to be able to offer the variety. We saw new faces and new customers that we were excited to come and place sports bets. And at the same time, these customers transcend slot machines and especially table games and they also eat in our restaurants. So it’s very good for the whole company. It had an extremely positive impact in November, December and January. We saw it drop in February because mobile sports betting had started and the football season was over. We are very curious to see what this fall has in store for us, especially in November when we open our permanent Barstool Sportsbook location.