Louisiana’s largest casino market hits the jackpot again. How long will the party last? | Lake Charles News


LAKE CHARLES – When the Golden Nugget unveiled his new sportsbook here last week, he showed his hand and didn’t hesitate to do so.

His target audience was clear from who was chosen to place a ceremonial bet as the cameras clicked: Mattress Mack. The prolific furniture seller and gamer, whose real name is Jim McIngvale, may not be familiar to many Louisianans. But he’s famous in Houston, a short drive from Lake Charles.

“Normally I have to fly to Las Vegas or Colorado or New Jersey, and now Louisiana is just a jump, a jump and a jump away from Houston,” he said Thursday. after putting $ 60,000 on the silver line for Texas A&M on Ole Miss at the DraftKings Sportsbook.

The state’s largest casino market is back in the money after the double hurricanes that devastated southwest Louisiana in 2020. Sportsbook opening last week at both casino complexes in Lake Charles – the Golden Nugget and L’Auberge – is expected to generate additional income and a potential new set of players to dine at on-site restaurants or float down their lazy rivers.

A third complex, the old Isle of Capri River Casino, across the Calcasieu River in Westlake, was damaged after being adrift by 150 mph winds from Hurricane Laura. It is slated to reopen as the Horseshoe Land-based Casino in fall 2022 and include a Caesar’s Sportsbook.

Construction of the Horseshoe Casino onshore continues at the now closed Island of Capri River Casino property site on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Delta Downs Racecourse near Vinton is also seeking a sports betting license.

But there are legitimate questions about how long the region will be able to ride the wave of new money. There have been efforts to legalize gambling at casinos next door in Texas, and while it could still take years, such a move would severely reduce the Lake Charles area customer base.

More than 80% of the Golden Nugget’s business comes from the Beaumont and Houston areas, said general manager Greg Hennagin.

Take Mike and Sandra Sutherland, for example. They recently wandered through the cavernous rooms of L’Auberge on one of their regular trips from Houston. They appreciate the convenience of having two large casinos within walking distance of each other, as well as their hotels, restaurants and other amenities, allowing them to stay put and have fun. They sometimes went fishing in the area.

But when asked if they would stay in Texas if a casino opened closer to their home, Mike Sutherland, 60, auto parts industry manager, replied, “Probably, because of its convenience. “

“Do great things”

Local officials here are obviously aware of this possibility and say they are prepared for it. They have taken steps to try to protect themselves against any drop in gaming revenue.

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The parish of Calcasieu does not budget for the casino’s revenue the year it is generated, but keeps it in reserve until the following year, said Alberto Galan, deputy to the parish administrator. The city, like the parish, uses the money for one-time expenses such as infrastructure projects and paying off debt, said CFO Karen Harrell. A parish-wide pool has been created to distribute income based on formulas, which also helps to distribute losses if a casino performs poorly within a given time frame.

Yet the permanent loss of a clientele the size of Texas could not be ignored. Gambling represents approximately 7.5% of Lake Charles’ revenues and approximately 3-5% for the parish of Calcasieu.

While noting that there are social costs, since gambling addiction is a serious problem, local officials say the jobs and income generated by gambling have been positive. Calcasieu parish administrator Bryan Beam said the industry accounts for up to 5,000 direct jobs when all facilities are open, not counting jobs at related companies.

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“My feeling as I look back on what is now basically a 25-year-old generation, I feel that overall the presence of the game has been positive for Calcasieu,” said Beam. “You have thousands of direct and indirect jobs because of this. You have a much higher profile for visitors, not just from Texas, but a lot of areas that otherwise wouldn’t. And that’s been a nice bunch of extra funds for some public agencies to do great things. “


The Auberge Casino can be seen in the distance as traffic passes over the I-10 bridge on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The sign directs motorists to the former Isle of Capri Casino site, which is being transformed into a land-based Horseshoe Casino, across Lake from The Inn and Golden Nugget.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said “we see the gaming industry as an integral part of a diverse economy,” although he said he would like to see businesses explore investments in neighborhoods. the poorest in the city, for example by setting up offices there.

“I think they’re just taking a few drops of that investment and putting it in some of our underserved communities, that would be a good thing to move forward,” Hunter said.

“Keep them competitive”

The era of the industry in Lake Charles, beginning with the state’s first riverine casinos in the 1990s, was not without turbulence. The Harrah’s riverboat complex at Lake Charles was badly damaged by Hurricane Rita in 2005. This lakefront area of ​​town, along Interstate 10, remains vacant, although a children’s museum and a science center as well as a bar and a restaurant are planned.

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Hurricane Laura, one of the most powerful storms in the state’s history, swept through southwest Louisiana in August 2020, and the area has struggled to rebuild since. It was also affected by Category 2 Hurricane Delta six weeks later, a severe frost in February and flooding in May.

Besides putting the Isle of Capri riverboat adrift, Laura also damaged the Golden Nugget and L’Auberge, although they were able to reopen in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, first responders have been able to settle there.

Incomes, of course, fell during this period, but they rebounded strongly. Revenues from L’Auberge and the Golden Nugget totaled $ 49.2 million in September, up from $ 16 million the day after Laura in 2020.

Jim Richardson, professor emeritus at LSU and former member of the State Conference on Income Estimating, said: “I appreciate that people have moral arguments about gambling, but I think from a point of view. From a purely economic standpoint, it is a successful industry.

He said when the state first approved it in the 1990s, revenue expectations may have been too high, sparking false hopes. But the extra money that has come in, along with jobs and tourism, has been significant, he said.

“Right now, gambling and casinos make up about 7-8% of the state’s overall budget,” said Richardson. “It’s a good amount. So in that sense, it provides that kind of relief. Otherwise, we would have to use some other type of personal or business tax to get that money.

All the more reason for Lake Charles to keep a close eye on Texas. The casinos here have worked to create a resort experience, with amenities such as golf courses, shops, bars, and restaurants. Their current sports betting is temporary, with plans for permanent and larger installations underway.

Ronnie Johns, the former Lake Charles area state senator who is now chairman of the state’s Gaming Control Board, said continuing down this path will be essential.

“Every time you go to Las Vegas, you see these properties offering new amenities,” he said. “They know their business, they know their market. They are always willing to reinvest in their properties, and I think that’s what’s going to keep them competitive.


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