Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta stood before the Louisiana Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force on Tuesday to request regulations on casino operators be eased to allow Louisiana to better compete with nearby states.

Tilman Fertitta Golden Nugget Lake Charles

Tilman Fertitta doesn’t want Louisiana’s casino industry to float away. (Image: Melissa Aguilar/Houston Chronicle)

As part of a statewide inquiry for insight from casino operators, Fertita laid out a litany of improvements that the state could make to improve gaming laws and regulations.

During his pitch, Tilman said Louisiana shouldn’t limit the number of slot machines on riverboat casinos and at trackside “racinos.” The billionaire also questioned why Louisiana lawmakers continue to mandate non-track casinos be built on water, saying riverboats are outdated.

Barge inspections cost $100,000 annually, he said. Fertitta added that he’s spent $10 million to comply with moored barge laws, which also mandate a paddle wheel (which will never be used) be visible.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: that barge is concrete. It’s not going anywhere,” Fertitta told the American Press, a local news source that covers Southwest Louisiana.

Louisiana is home to nearly two dozen riverboat and racetrack casinos, plus one land-based venue, Harrah’s New Orleans. Riverboats can offer slots and table games, while racinos can only offer slots and video poker.

The taskforce is on a state tour taking information from invested operators before making recommendations to the legislature next year on whether or not it’s time to amend the state’s gaming law.

Ready for Online Gambling

In addition to requesting that his Golden Nugget Lake Charles riverboat be allowed to expand to surrounding land, Fertitta also called for the legalization of online casino gambling.

Fertitta’s Golden Nugget Atlantic City is the biggest online earner in New Jersey, and Fertitta told the taskforce that Louisiana needs to be ready for internet gambling to be legal in 20 to 25 states by 2022.

The Landry’s CEO also said taxing promotional play given out by riverboats hinders marketing, which reduces revenue and overall tax money collected. Tribal casinos are exempt from such fees, he reminded the task force.    

Riverboat casinos pay a maximum effective tax rate of 27.5 percent on net monthly proceeds. They also deliver a $3 admission fee per patron to the state.

Fertitta said his requests aren’t to solely benefit the Golden Nugget, but “everybody in the gaming industry.”

Smoking Vital to Casino Health?

Smoking inside riverboat casinos is still permitted in Lake Charles, but clean air advocates are making progress in multiple cities to forbid it. Harrah’s New Orleans was forced to extinguish smoking in April 2015, and corporate owner Caesars says that’s cost the company $70 million in lost revenue over the first two years of going smoke-free.

City officials in Baton Rouge decided to follow NOLA’s lead last week, as the Metro Council there broke its gridlock and passed a clean-air ordinance on bars and casinos. 

Taskforce member Republican State Sen. Ronnie Johns opined that he believes Lake Charles will soon have to consider a smoking ban, too, despite heavy opposition from casino interests. Fertitta responded that patrons will flee his Golden Nugget to tribal casinos or Las Vegas should his riverboat become disallow tobacco use.  

New Orleans threw Harrah’s a bone, however, when the city allowed the casino to install a cordoned off gaming area where players can smoke. But Fertitta says due to antiquated riverboat laws, he has no room to build such an addition.