Gulf Coast Casinos Hunker Down Again as Hurricane Zeta Targets South Louisiana

Posted on: October 28, 2020, 12:17h. 

Last updated on: October 29, 2020, 02:15h.

As Hurricane Zeta raced toward Louisiana on Wednesday, casinos along the Gulf Coast braced for another battering.

Hurricane Zeta
Hurricane Zeta zeroed in on Louisiana as it made its way up the Gulf of Mexico this week. This is the fifth hurricane or tropical storm to hit the Pelican State this year. (Image: CNN)

Hurricane Zeta is expected to make landfall by Wednesday evening south of New Orleans. It is the fifth hurricane or tropical storm to slam into Louisiana this year. It approached the coast as a Category 2 hurricane, with top winds of 100 mph.

Two of the most destructive storms this season, Hurricanes Laura and Delta, recently roared ashore west of New Orleans. These hurricanes tore through southwestern Louisiana only six weeks apart, shredding Lake Charles. The four casinos in that area were damaged. The Isle of Capri riverboat casino in Lake Charles remained closed on Wednesday.

By early Wednesday, casinos in the New Orleans area, anticipating a direct hit, began to put their “inclement weather procedures” in place, according to Lt. Robert Fontenot of the Louisiana State Police.

Boomtown Casino announced on its website that it was temporarily closed because of the storm. Boomtown is near a canal in Harvey, Louisiana, south of downtown New Orleans. The canal poses a flood threat.

Parts of New Orleans are 9.84 feet below sea level. This puts the city at risk for flooding from heavy rainfall and storm surges during severe weather.  However, Zeta’s fast-moving pace gave hope that it would speed through the area without catastrophic damage.

“The good news for us — and look, you take good news where you can find it — the storm’s forward speed is 17 mph,” Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said on The Weather Channel. “That’s projected to increase, and so it’s going to get in and out of the area relatively quickly.”

The governor anticipated that wind damage would be a dangerous factor with this storm.

Casino Industry Punished

The hurricanes and tropical storms that hit the Gulf Coast this season killed dozens of people and damaged countless homes and businesses.

This season’s hurricanes and tropical storms also have waylaid the casino industry along the Gulf Coast. Zeta is the 11th hurricane this season. A normal season has six, according to the Associated Press.

The regional casinos that didn’t close during severe weather still felt the impact of less tourism traffic.

Josh Hirsberg, Boyd Gaming’s chief financial officer, said the impact from this year’s storms runs into the millions. The Nevada-based company has five properties in Louisiana and two in Mississippi.

We estimate a $3 million to $5 million kind of an impact,” he said.

Coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s severe weather has walloped casinos in the New Orleans area.

Harrah’s hotel-casino in New Orleans reported $40.9 million in gambling revenue from March to August this year. This compares to $144.9 million the previous year. Harrah’s is the state’s only land-based resort.

Deadly Hurricane Katrina

After striking South Louisiana, Hurricane Zeta was expected to rip through the southern half of Mississippi. The Magnolia State is home to 26 commercial casinos, including the 12 on Gulf Coast. There were no immediate mandated casino closings in Mississippi as this storm approached.

The hurricane’s remnants were forecast to veer east toward Atlanta, the Smoky Mountains, and beyond.

Hurricane Zeta’s initial path resembled that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That hurricane made landfall near Grand Isle, Louisiana. The storm killed 1,833 people in five states combined.

During Hurricane Katrina, barge casinos in and around Biloxi, Mississippi, were torn from their moorings and tossed onto land 200 yards from the shore.