Bill Allows Riverboat Casinos to Move Onshore

Louisiana Casinos to Operate Onshore

A bill signed into law on Wednesday allows Louisiana riverboat casinos to operate legally onshore.

Riverboat casinos can now move ashore and offer more space for gaming, thanks to the Governor of Louisiana signing a bill into law that legalizes the move. The riverboat gaming facilities can now move as far as 1,200 feet from their berths to offer services on land rather than over water.

A little history

Louisiana legalized gambling almost three decades ago, with only one casino regulated by the state, located in New Orleans, and three casinos located on tribal lands. The remaining casino gaming was found on the waterways. Fifteen riverboat casinos are currently in operation and each one now has the ability to choose to move ashore.

In 1991, the Louisiana legislature approved 15 riverboat casinos for the state, with each boat required to sail while gambling was offered. In 2001, these rules changed to allow the boats to stay dockside, yet the casino floor had to be located over water.

The first gaming venue to open in Louisiana was the Star Casino on Lake Pontchartrain, opening in November of 1993. In less than ten years from that time, the lottery and video poker gaming were legalized, and casinos were beginning to pop up along the rivers of the state. Today, several well-known casino brands operate along the waterways, including the Golden Nugget, Harrah’s, Hollywood, and the Horseshoe.

Moving onto land

The process of Senate Bill 316 (SB316) passing into law has been ongoing for some time. VSO News reported in April how the State Senate had voted 22 to 14 in favor of the measure to see riverboat casinos move to land in the hope of increasing the amount of money the state earns from gambling revenues. The Senate wanted to see the riverboats have the option to move to land, not only to help the state, but also to help local economies. Earlier this week, the House narrowly approved the measure, which caused the bill to move on to the governor’s desk for approval.

Now that the governor has signed the bill into law, the riverboat casinos can begin to make the transition from water to land. It will still be some time though before the casinos will make the move, as the state’s gaming control board (GCB) will not be ready to take applications from riverboat casinos until around six months from now.

Reportedly, GCB staff are reviewing gaming rules that have been adopted by other states, and it may be some time before regulations regarding designs, amenities, and financing as well as  additional application procedures to move on to land are completed. Such regulations would have to be considered via public hearings and then written responses provided before they earn the necessary approvals to move forward.

With SB316, current limits of 30,000 square feet of gambling space per boat will now be replaced with a cap of 2,365 gaming positions. A “gaming position” is defined as a space located at a table game or a seat used for a slot machine. Regulations will then need to be created to determine how the number of positions is counted.

Now, the riverboat casinos are looking into pricing plans to move onshore as well as how they are going to raise the money to finance their projects. In the past, the GCB has required significant investments to be made when it comes to gambling facilities with amenities included, which will push the amount needed to create acceptable onshore facilities into the nine-figure range.

Sponsor of SB361 State Senator Ronnie Johns said:

“We’re talking about $500 million, $600 million, to build a first-class facility. They’re not going to be allowed to move slot machines into some warehouse space.”

Supporters of the change have pointed out that many of the riverboat casinos need to move on to land for safety reasons. As the water levels rise due to heavy rains, the casinos can be at risk and forced to shut down to protect patrons as well as employees.

Over the next few months, as regulations are being crafted, we should see which operators apply to begin the move, as well as their specific plans for onshore facilities.