Coronavirus

New Orleans Casino Winnings Sink As COVID-19 Slows Tourism

The New Orleans gaming market closed out 2020 with a steep drop in revenue. The tourism-dependent Crescent City was hit hard last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

A laid-off Louisiana casino worker, left, talks with a television reporter about her job loss. The pandemic and severe weather had a negative impact on gaming revenue in the Bayou State. (Image: WAFB-TV)

In the New Orleans area, the combined gaming revenue in December was $35.9 million. That is 31 percent below the previous December’s $52 million, according to the New Orleans Advocate. No other gaming market in the state had a decline that steep.

The Crescent City is home to the state’s only land-based casino, Harrah’s New Orleans. Harrahs experienced a 37.5 percent drop in winnings, from $26.4 million to $16.5 million. Harrah’s was “hard hit by the loss of tourism in New Orleans caused by the pandemic,” the newspaper reported. 

The resort is planning a multimillion dollar project to built a hotel tower and make other enhancements. The property also is going to be renamed.

The three riverboat casinos in the New Orleans area saw a combined slump of 22.6 percent in revenue last month compared to December 2019. The Treasure Chest Casino in suburban New Orleans alone posted a 28 percent decline. It went from $8.6 million to $6.2 million.

Hurricanes Pummel Lake Charles

After closing in March because of COVID-10 concerns, Louisiana casinos reopened in May with a 50 capacity limit. In addition to this, the state’s destructive hurricane season had a lingering economic impact in some areas.

A record five named storms clobbered Louisiana in the summer and fall before the Atlantic hurricane season officially ended in November. Some places along the state’s Gulf Coast were still rebuilding late last year.  

The Lake Charles area in southwestern Louisiana experienced a catastrophic storm season. Two deadly hurricanes shredded the region only six weeks apart, damaging casinos, homes, and businesses. The resulting hardships, combined with COVID-19 concerns, had an impact on the area’s economy.

Combined, the casinos in the Lake Charles area saw a 23.1 percent revenue drop in December to $59.4 million. 

Hurricane damage forced the Isle of Capri riverboat casino in Lake Charles to close. According to media accounts, it will not reopen until 2022. On Feb. 1, the Isle of Capri is expected to furlough 336 workers.

Last year in Louisiana, at least 4,790 casino employees were laid off statewide, including in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets.

Baton Rouge Sees Success

Some of the December revenue outcomes were not as bleak as New Orleans experienced.

L’Auberge Casino Hotel in Baton Rouge took in $12.4 million last month, a 1.2 percent increase over the same month in 2019. It was the only casino in the state to post an increase in revenue in December. Baton Rouge is the state’s capital city.

Overall, the three Baton Rouge riverboat casinos posted $17.2 million in winnings in December. These properties brought in $18.4 million in December 2019. This 6.7 percent slump made Baton Rouge the top-performing casino market in the state, the Advocate reported.

Also, video poker machines in truck stops posted positive results, up 11.9 percent in December 2020, compared to the same month one year before that. Truck stops have the state’s largest number of video poker machines.

Larry Henry

Gaming Regulation, Crime, Politics — Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who spent more than 16 years in Nevada, including serving as legislative reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as political editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He's also written about popular culture for the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. As a broadcast journalist, he worked as managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Arkansas, where he now lives and where casino growth is a hot topic. A Marine Corps veteran and LSU graduate, he is also an avid movie fan, especially of classic film noir from the 1940s and ’50s.

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Larry Henry