Changes are coming to Louisiana’s gaming thanks to passage of legislation Tuesday.
The House’s approval of Senate Bill 316 would allow the state’s riverboat casinos to move onshore and rework their gambling space.
The House voted 54-41 in favor the bill by author Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles. The Senate previously voted in favor 22-14.
The bill will now go to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is expected to sign the changes into law.
Johns said the changes would modernize an industry that has been allowed to make few changes since Louisiana’s riverboat casino law was passed more than 25 years ago. He said the adjustments would accommodate larger slot machines with newer technology and help the casinos compete with facilities in Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, stated his support while the bill was in the Senate, saying the riverboats in his region offer thousands of jobs with “wonderful salaries.”
“Let’s allow these corporate citizens to compete and not handcuff them,” he said.
Riverboat casinos will be allowed to conduct gambling activities on land within 1,200 feet of their licensed berth and will no longer need an operable paddlewheel.
A restriction that currently keeps the facilities to no more than 30,000 square feet of gambling space would be replaced with a cap on gambling positions — essentially the number of seats in front of slot machines and table games — at 2,365.
State Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, voted for the measure because of the importance the gaming industry in Bossier Parish and that her constituents ae in favor of the changes.
“Although I did not vote to allow riverboat gaming to come to Bossier City, the majority of (my constituents) did and the boats’ financial impact on our city, parish, and state are significant. In Dist. 9 alone, we have over 6,000 people employed at one of the casinos and this cannot be ignored,” Horton said on a Facebook post. “I also polled all 1,553-plus (of Dist. 9) who have downloaded the Your Vote app and the result of the poll showed 89 percent in favor of updating the gaming facilities in order for this industry to be more competitive with other states and to be able to offer patrons a better experience.”
“Too many families depend on this Industry in order to provide for their children,” she concluded.
Shreveport’s gaming market ranks No. 15 in the nation in revenue with $688M, according to 2015 numbers.
The Shreveport-Bossier riverboat gaming market has a direct employment 4,317 with 9,065 support jobs and payroll of $136.8M in FY15. Visitors totaled 5,485,864 and spent nearly $275M in FY15.
However, when compared to 2010 numbers, direct employment and support jobs had both dropped 36 percent each by 2015. Admissions had fallen 13 percent, and the number of visitors and their spending both fell by 19 percent in the same year.
That is why local economic officials strongly supported the measure, even speaking to the state’s Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force about making the changes as far back as December 2017.
Rocky Rockett, director of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation said this is a great first step in modernizing an industry that takes care of nearly 6,000 local employees.
“Those families depend on them being successful against growing, competitive markets in neighboring states. The opportunity to spur economic development with new construction, the potential to increase revenue for the state and local coffers, as well as adding to the existing employment base now presents itself,” Rockett said. “At the end of the day, the legislature had a chance to position this industry to be competitive before it was too late. It is our obligation to do so and I believe we did so here.”
Lisa Johnson, president and CEO of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce, said “The passage of Senate Bill 316 brings us to the modernization for the casino industry that we have been needing for many years. This will assist northwest Louisiana in becoming more competitive towards neighboring states’ gaming industries.”