The Louisiana poker scene may be on the way up after recent changes in the state’s casino laws. On May 23, the state’s governor signed a new law allowing significant land-based expansion for casino operations for the state’s 15 riverboat casinos.
In Louisiana, casinos were legalized in 1991 as riverboats, which were originally supposed to move up and down one of the state’s natural waterways with gamblers. However, staying in one location proved much more lucrative and they were soon permanently docked or connected to land.
An exception was made in 1992 for one land-based casino in New Orleans, and there are also three land-based Indian casinos. Harrah’s in New Orleans regularly holds large poker events.
Being permanently over water as a riverboat, made holding major poker tournaments in the state a challenge for poker rooms. In March, the Horseshoe in Bossier City hosted the RunGood Poker Series, the first major tour to stop at the casino since the WSOP-Circuit in 2013.
Poker room manager Chad Disante believes the success of not only the tour stop but also the number of cash game players, will help bring more and bigger series to the property. With limited space and only 14 tables because of the state’s regulations, Disante was only able to add two tables just outside its entrance for the RunGood Series. Alternates had long waits to be seated when tournament tables were full rather than have open tables ready to start seating. Despite the challenges, poker players turned out with 1,020 entries over the three events.
With the new changes, the Horseshoe has plans to greatly expand its poker offerings and make use of the casinos’ Riverdome concert facility.
“We are excited about new opportunities that come with this newly passed legislation,” Disante said. “Our poker room is now able to host large-scale, land-based tournaments and is no longer confined to a restricted gaming space. Our guests will see more legendary events at Horseshoe Bossier City with the World Series of Poker and RunGood Poker Series.”
Casinos will not be constructing new facilities and moving gaming onto land overnight. According to The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge: “It’ll be at least six months before the first two or three riverboat casinos likely interested in making the move will be able to file an application with the state Gaming Control Board. Even the massive casino/hotel resorts constructed over watery sloughs to technically comply with state law, like L’Auberge Baton Rouge, will have to wait half a year before they can legally switch off their circulating paddle wheels, usually stowed in some out-of-the-way closet, that also were required by law.”
Disante said the RunGood Series will be returning Oct. 2-7, but will again be held in the poker room because of the time needed to make the transition and the GCB application timetable. He’s hoping that is the last event over the water and future events will be held in the Riverdome facility.
For casino operators in the Bayou State, land-based operations will allow them to be more competitive with Oklahoma properties such as the Winstar and Choctaw casinos. Both have massive gambling operations including major poker events. The Choctaw hosts several events each year including the WSOP Circuit and the Word Poker Tour, and Winstar has found success with its popular “River” series of tournaments.
The law passed in the Legislature by one vote. Proponents believe it will modernize the industry in the state and in bring in more tax revenue to state coffers. Casino executives gathered around Gov. John Bel Edwards as he signed the legislation into law.
In the southern part of the state, the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles offers players six tables of live cash games. The changes in the law allow for the property to look at expanding that, according to Gerry Del Prete, vice President of gaming operations.
“We are thankful for the legislation being passed and that lawmakers agreed this was an opportunity for the state of Louisiana,” he said. “We are optimistic this will improve the guest experience for all of our poker players. We look forward to offering our poker players a large poker tournament similar to those held at the other Golden Nugget casino locations. It levels the playing field with casinos in Mississippi and Oklahoma that have been able to offer their poker players an expanded tournament experience.”
The new law allows riverboat casinos to move 1,200 feet onto land from their designated space over water. The Advocate notes that riverboat gambling raised $419.2 million in taxes and fees for the state in 2017 compared to $371 million from oil and gas severance taxes.
Casinos in Shreveport-Bossier, in the northern part of the state, and Lake Charles, in the south, attract a big percentage of customers from Dallas, Houston, and other parts of Texas as well as Arkansas. Poker players in the Ark-La-Tex will have even bigger events to attend in the near future – expanding the poker scene and economy throughout the state.