Five Louisiana Casino Bills Advance, State Gambling Industry Makeover Looms

Posted on: March 23, 2018, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: March 23, 2018, 09:35h.

Multiple pieces of legislation that would overhaul how Louisiana casinos operate passed out of state committees this week.

Louisiana casino law riverboat
Billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who opened the Golden Nugget Lake Charles riverboat in late 2014, is happy to learn that his Louisiana casino might soon lose its water requirement. (Image: James Nielsen/Houston Chronicle)

The two most consequential bills involve allowing the state’s 15 riverboat casinos to move ashore, so long as they remain within 1,200 feet of their current locations. Additional legislation would remove a 30,000-square-foot floor limit in favor of establishing a gaming positions cap of 2,365 positions.

State Senator Ronnie Johns (R-Sulphur) introduced both bills. The lawmaker wrote the measures after receiving recommendations from the state’s Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force.

The gaming positions cap over a square footage maximum is to encourage investment in larger properties. “These bills were well thought out by a variety of people who served the task force,” Johns declared this week.

Two other measures address “promotional pays,” and how free slot credits are taxed. Casino operators have argued they’re being double taxed. The legislation would reduce the tariff on free gaming.

A fifth casino measure would renew Harrah’s New Orleans’ license, and give the venue an exclusive monopoly on the Big Easy for 30 years. The casino is the only land-based commercial gambling venue in Louisiana.

Welcome Ashore

Louisiana casino companies have been petitioning state lawmakers to update what they believe to be antiquated gaming laws.

Appearing before the Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force last year, Golden Nugget billionaire Tilman Fertitta said of the water mandate, “Let’s not kid ourselves: that barge is concrete. It’s not going anywhere.”

The state task force agreed with Fertitta in that it’s time to wash away the water requirement. In January, the agency recommended allowing casinos to move their venues to land and do away with the paddle wheels, which to date still must be operable.

Johns said the bills simply allow the Louisiana casinos to come into the modern times. He retorted criticism from religious groups that claim his measures might lead to expanded gambling in the state.

“It doesn’t create any new licenses, it doesn’t allow for internet gaming or any other forms of gaming such as sports betting,” Johns told reporters. “Anyone who says this is going to expand gaming needs to go back and read it. My word is my word.”

Big Easy

Also this week, legislation that would extend the operating permit for Harrah’s New Orleans for 30 years and grant the casino exclusivity in the city passed out of the Louisiana House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee.

In exchange for the gaming monopoly on New Orleans, Harrah’s, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment, says it will invest $350 million to construct a 340-room luxury hotel equipped with a nightclub, spa, and restaurant from celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.

Harrah’s New Orleans will also be on the hook to pay the state an additional $7 million a year. The casino is presently mandated to contribute at least $60 million annually to the government.