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Sale of Margaritaville cause to look ahead, celebrate anniversary

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On the heels of Margaritaville celebrating its fifth anniversary, it was announced the resort-casino had been sold a national company. It is just another evolution of one of the major tenants in the local gaming market.

The resort-casino was purchased last week by Penn National Gaming in a proposed $376 million all-cash transaction. It was the second time the property was put up for purchase after a deal with Wind Creek Hospitality fell through in April 2017.

“First and foremost, Penn Gaming is a major commercial operator. They operate numerous brands already, and are not trying to push a new brand out in this market. With a seasoned commercial operator like that, we don’t expect to see a lot of changes,” said Barry Regula, senior vice president and general manager of Margaritaville Resort Casino. “We have had to compete with much larger companies and now we’re a part of one, so we’ll have pricing benefits, the ability to improve, and a network of destination casinos for our guests to go visit. This will be a positive development for everyone.”

Looking ahead, Regula said they have “a lot of plans” for growth.

“We hope to continue to develop and make this an even better destination resort. We’re very early in the acquisition process, we have a ways to go before it’s final,” Regula explained. “They’re a great company and they’re really smart and really guest-oriented and I think this will be a great deal for our guests, our employees, and our community.”

It has been an eventful half decade for the new kid on the block in Shreveport-Bossier’s gaming industry. From a public vote to approve the new property in Bossier in November 2011, to the effort to construct a state of the art facility near the Louisiana Boardwalk, and even to overcoming stiff competition, the resort has steadily gained marketshare.

Regula said the growth has been remarkable, with the last 14 quarters being 14 consecutive quarter-over-quarter growth.

“When I look back to our first four months and now our last four months, we’ve seen a 50-percent increase in marketshare,” he revealed. “Between our business strategies and engagement of crew members building relationships with guests, we’ve continued to build business. We believe good isn’t good enough, so we continue to improve our facility to make sure we’re on top of trends to keep growing.”

Negotiations to bring a new casino to Bossier City began in June 2011. The attraction became a reality when 61 percent of voters approved the Nov. 19, 2011 vote to build the resort-casino on the Red River north of the Louisiana Boardwalk. Ground was officially broken on the $197 million project in February 2012 at the site north of the Louisiana Boardwalk’s Bass Pro Shop.

The doors officially opened on June 15, 2013. At the beginning, dollars were tight. Regula said in the beginning that he knew it would take time, but he had belief.

“We knew that with the facility we had and the people we had, that we just needed a chance. Once people gave us a try, we knew they would want to come back again.”

At the same time, there was a strong sentiment in the local gaming industry that a new casino would not expand gaming, but would only take away from other properties. To borrow a popular metaphor, the pie wouldn’t get any bigger, Margaritaville would just take a larger slice.

Regula refuted that sentiment, saying, “We may be taking some of the pie, but the market was contracting and we came into the market and grew it for the first time in a long time. We’ve been helping sustain visitation to the area.”

Another obstacle that has risen over the last five years is competition from Indian casinos in Oklahoma, eating into travelers from east Texas. But Regula noted their brand in those areas was strong enough to compete for that audience.

“We came on the scene as a new alternative to what was here and were something that those people who had stopped coming hadn’t seen before — new casino, resort, games, and restaurants all combined to get us a second look.”