Baton Rouge riverboat casino operators applaud option to move on land

    Local casino operators are applauding the Legislature’s decision to allow riverboat casinos to move on land, saying it gives operators more options for future investments and to respond to the upcoming city-parish smoking ban.

    While the Belle of Baton Rouge is the only operator to openly discuss plans to move on land, an executive with Pinnacle Entertainment, which operates L’Auberge Casino, today praised the Legislature for passing the riverboat bill because it will allow the casino more flexibility to explore developments to accommodate smokers when the Baton Rouge smoking ban goes into effect June 1.

    Pinnacle declined to announce any plans in response to the legislation because it is in the middle of a transaction. Penn National Gaming is buying Pinnacle in a $2.8 billion deal that would merge the two companies. The transaction is awaiting regulatory approval and is scheduled to close before the end of the year.

    “That restricts our ability to talk about what may or may not happen,” says Troy Stremming, Pinnacle executive vice president of government relations and public affairs. “We’re very happy with the passage because it clearly creates flexibility for operators to have more options in how they operate. Also, on cusp of the smoking ban, there are maybe some things we can do inside and outside now and still meet parameters of the smoking ban.”

    The riverboat bill received final legislative approval yesterday in a 53-42 House vote, the minimum votes required for passage. The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is expected to approve it.

    The legislation allows floating casinos to move 1,200 feet on land from their designated dock. It also changes the limits on gaming space from 30,000 square feet to 2,365 gambling positions. Both proposals were recommended by the Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force.

    Supporters of the bill claim the changes will modernize the industry, which brings in the fourth-largest share of state revenue, while opponents argued the bill expands gambling.

    Owners of the Belle—sold in April as part of a $1.85 billion acquisition of Tropicana Entertainment by Eldorado Resorts—have said they plan to spend millions upgrading the 22-year-old casino if the bill passes.

    Calls to the Belle and Hollywood Casino for comment were not returned before today’s deadline.

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