Pinnacle executive says BR casino market bigger than thought

The executive who oversees Pinnacle Entertainment’s four Louisiana casinos said Wednesday that the company built the L’Auberge Casino Hotel Baton Rouge because it believed the local casino market was much larger than the $13 million that the city’s two downtown riverboats were bringing in each month.

Geno Iafrate, executive vice president of regional operations for Pinnacle Entertainment, also told the Baton Rouge Rotary Club on Wednesday that construction should begin at the end of the month on a 150-room hotel at the company’s Boomtown Casino New Orleans in Harvey.

Construction on the $20 million hotel, which also will include meeting space and a fitness center, should take about 13 months.

Winnings at Baton Rouge’s casinos are up nearly 61 percent from previous-year levels during the first four months L’Auberge has been open, Iafrate said, with between $22 million and $25 million coming in each month.

L’Auberge opened Labor Day weekend, but winnings have only been tallied through the end of December.

The Baton Rouge casino market is actually about a $40 million to $50 million market, Iafrate said. He based that figure on estimates of what local gamblers spend in Baton Rouge, as well at other regional casinos.

Iafrate estimates the Paragon Casino Resort, a tribal casino in Marksville, brings in about $12 million a month, with many of the gamblers coming from the Capital Region.

Paragon is owned and operated by the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe and does not have to report earnings.

Local gamblers spend another $5 million to $10 million a month at New Orleans casinos, with the bulk of money being lost at the Harrah’s gambling hall downtown.

And Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos get $10 million to $15 million a month from Baton Rouge gamblers, Iafrate said.

Pinnacle’s goal for L’Auberge is to use the casino to keep Baton Rouge gamblers close to home, ensuring that the money they wager stays in East Baton Rouge Parish and Louisiana, Iafrate said. And the company wants to expand the market.

“We see Baton Rouge as a resort destination,” he said.

Last weekend, Pinnacle brought in about three dozen of its biggest gamblers to L’Auberge Baton Rouge, where they stayed at the hotel and were rewarded with a trip to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

To further accommodate gamblers, L’Auberge is adding 400 parking spaces. The spots will be next to the casino in an area occupied by construction trailers.

Work on the parking spaces should begin in two weeks and the work will take about six weeks to complete, weather permitting, Iafrate said.