Louisiana’s riverboat casinos could be moving to dry land after a bill was passed by a Senate committee.
Bill 316, now heading to the full Senate, would allow the state’s 15 riverboat casinos to move ashore, so long as the new gaming site is within 1,200 feet of the current location.
In order to make the move, the casinos must provide the state Gaming Control Board with justification of economic development. According to Nola.com, Republican Senator Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, stated: “We wanted to promote economic development… and to address the issues of safety out on the waterways.”
Johns represents an area of Louisiana where the gambling industry is most prevalent.
Senate Bill 316 would limit the casinos to 2,635 gaming machines, once ashore. This would take the place of the current restriction whereby the gambling venues can only be 30,000 square feet in size. The board would be responsible for creating regulations to determine what would count against the number of gaming machines or gaming seats on offer.
Second Gambling Bill from Senator Johns
Along with Senate Bill 316, Senator Johns is also behind a second gambling bill, Senate Bill 320. This bill has also advanced within the Senate committee and is moving on to the full Senate for consideration. The bill would see the casino tax burden lowered for those who provide gambling coupons, vouchers, etc., as giveaways to bring players to their gaming facilities.
Casinos in the state are currently obliged to pay taxes based on the giveaways they offer to attract custom. The legislation would allow casinos to ask the board to pay taxes based on a “baseline” of the incentives they offer, after July 1, 2020. Revenues over the baseline amount are not to be taxed.
Senator Johns has pointed out that neighboring states do not charge their casinos taxes on giveaways and vouchers, one example being the state of Mississippi. According to Senator Gary Smith, the tax change would allow Louisiana to stay in competition with neighboring areas; New Orleans would be able to compete with Mississippi while Shreveport would be able to compete with Oklahoma.
Will Gambling Bills Move Forward?
Now that Senator Johns’ bills have moved forward from the Committee, will they gain any traction in the full Senate? So far, the two bills have yet to be scrutinized and no pushback has been present. However, this might change within the full Senate.
John Alario, the Senate President, has shown concern over the number of changes proposed for the state’s gambling industry. Alario said: “It looks like every form of gaming has come forward with a proposal now. I think we have to be careful that those businesses don’t take advantage of the people of Louisiana.”
Reportedly, the Governor of the state is receptive to changes within the gambling industry – however, he has yet to comment on the proposals.
Louisiana relies heavily on its gambling industry as the casinos have become a solid contributor of revenues for the government. According to the most recent annual report from the Gaming Control Board, the budget cycle for 2015–2016 saw $414.5m (£293m) contributed to the state coffers from the 15 riverboat casinos.
When combining all gambling within the state, which includes the riverboats, racetracks, video poker facilities, and Harrah’s, the gaming industry has produced more than $700m (£495m) for state and local governments based on the report findings.
It seems the riverboats would be able to contribute even more if they were allowed to move on land. It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks if the state Senate decides to move Senate Bill 316 forward, allowing the riverboats to finally move on land or whether the bill will be unable to gain any more ground. Senator Johns may have some convincing to do if he wants to see his bill continue to progress.