BR casino revenues down again

Baton Rouge riverboat casinos’ winnings were lower in May than they were a year before, the fourth time this has happened in 2014.

The three local riverboats brought in $25.1 million during May, compared with $26 million in May 2013, a 3.3 percent drop, according to figures released by Louisiana State Police.

One bright spot for the local casino market was the continued performance of the Belle of Baton Rouge. The city’s oldest riverboat casino brought in nearly $5.7 million in May, compared with $5.3 million in May 2013. It was the only riverboat casino in the state to bring in more money in May than it did a year before, other than the Margaritaville Casino Resort in Bossier City, which wasn’t open until June 2013.

Even with Margaritaville bringing in nearly $11.4 million, statewide gambling revenues were lower in May than they were a year before. The 14 riverboats, four racetrack casinos and Harrah’s land-based casino brought in $213.9 million during May, compared with $214.2 million the year before. That was the third consecutive month in a row the state’s gambling winnings were down.

Paul S. West, an attorney at Baker Donelson in Baton Rouge who specializes in gaming law, said that after 20 years of legalized gambling in Louisiana, the novelty is starting to wear off.

“Twenty years ago, if you wanted to gamble, you had to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City,” he said. “It’s no longer the chic, cool thing to do.”

What’s going on in Louisiana is mirrored in other casino markets.

According to The New York Times, casino revenues in Atlantic City were $3 billion for 2013, down 41 percent from the 2006 peak of $5.2 billion. One Atlantic City casino already has closed this year, and the operators of the $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel said earlier this week that the property could close by mid-August if a buyer is not found.

Nevada gaming revenues have been down three times for the first four months of the year when compared with 2013 figures, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In neighboring Mississippi, casino revenues are down nearly 5 percent through May when compared with 2013 figures. The decline could become worse: On June 2, Harrah’s Tunica, the largest casino in the state, shut down, putting nearly 1,000 employees out of work. Caesars Entertainment said it closed the casino after years of trying to find a buyer because it wasn’t making enough money to keep the property going.

While markets such as Atlantic City have been hurt by gambling moving into neighboring states, West said Louisiana has fared fairly well, other than for a tribal gaming expansion in Oklahoma that affected the Shreveport-Bossier City market.

“I think things will level off,” West said. “As the economy improves some, gaming will improve.”

One bright spot for the Louisiana casino market could be the Golden Nugget Lake Charles, set to open in December. The property will feature 1,600 slot machines, 60 table games, a golf course and several restaurants.

“There’s plenty of room for a quality product,” West said. “You’ve got to keep up with the Joneses. You can’t just stand still with a casino; you have to put a quality product out in the market.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate