Thousands of gamblers gathered for Saturday’s opening of L’Auberge Casino & Hotel Baton Rouge, a $368 million complex overlooking the Mississippi River.
The opening had been set for Wednesday, but Hurricane Isaac swept away that plan.
“All of us remember what Katrina did, what Rita did ... what Gustav did. I think we’re very fortunate,” said Anthony Sanfilippo, president and chief executive officer of Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., which owns L’Auberge. “We had some high water, but it could have been much worse.”
Phyllis Reynolds, of Sunshine, got to the casino at 11 a.m., three hours before it opened.
“I gamble every week, so I wanted to see what they have to offer, and it’s really beautiful,” said Reynolds, who usually plays the slots at the Belle of Baton Rouge.
There were so many people waiting to get into the casino that Reynolds had to move several times. She finally ended up on the far side of the entrance to the gaming floor. Reynolds said she might have waited a week to come if she had known so many people would be at the opening.
Lafayette resident Pam Savant arrived about an hour before the opening.
Asked her opinion of the facility, Savant joked, “If I win, I like it. If I lose, I don’t like it.”
Savant said the facility reminded her of the casinos in Las Vegas.
The property includes a single-level, 74,000-square-foot casino, nearly 1,500 slot machines, 50 table games, including a poker room; a 12-story hotel with 205 guest rooms; a rooftop pool and fitness center overlooking the Mississippi River; four dining outlets; a casino bar with river views; and 2,400 total parking spaces, including 800 in a covered parking garage.
L’Auberge is Pinnacle’s fourth Louisiana property. The others are the Boomtown Casino New Orleans, Boomtown Casino & Hotel Bossier City, and the L’Auberge Casino Resort Lake Charles.
L’Auberge’s Baton Rouge casino is called a riverboat, but it is permanently moored and set back out of the Mississippi’s main navigation channel.
The project has been in the works for more than six years. In a 2008 election, 56 percent of Baton Rouge voters cast their ballots in favor of adding a third casino. The city already had the Belle of Baton Rouge and Hollywood Casino. According to a 2006 study by economist Loren Scott, the Baton Rouge market can support only two casinos, which means one will likely fail. Both the Belle and Hollywood have invested millions in recent years to upgrade their facilities.
Pinnacle began construction in May 2010. The project was delayed by low water in the Mississippi River, which prevented the boat’s hulls from being shipped from Bollinger Shipyard in Amelia. Last year, high water in the river delayed construction on the casino. Last week, there was a hurricane.
Sanfilippo acknowledged the project had dealt with its share of Mother Nature issues. But there were none Saturday.
The opening ceremonies began at 1:45 p.m. with short speeches by L’Auberge Vice President and General Manager Mickey Parenton, Pinnacle Executive Vice President of Regional Operations Geno M. Iafrate, Sanfilippo and Mayor-President Kip Holden. Holden thanked Pinnacle for choosing Baton Rouge to build the facility, which generated 1,000 permanent jobs and 1,200 construction jobs.
Eleven minutes after the ceremony began, Holden and Sanfilippo rolled an enormous pair of ceremonial dice to mark the opening, and in poured the gamblers.
Sanfilippo already was looking ahead to expanding L’Auberge.
“We built this facility with the thought that we’ll continue to develop it into a resort destination,” Sanfilippo said.
The pavilion was designed so that L’Auberge can add more restaurants and retail space, he said. The hotel also was designed so that another tower can be added.
“We believe that this will be a terrific regional destination, that Baton Rouge has so much to offer, and this is the first phase of what we expect will be growth in the Baton Rouge area,” Sanfilippo said.
Pinnacle expects L’Auberge will be able to compete with the casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he said.