Louisiana Casinos Still Thriving - Thursday 23rd of February 2006

by Howard Stutz

Las Vegas Gaming Wire

Pinnacle Entertainment's suburban New Orleans riverboat casino became Louisiana's largest producer of gaming revenue during January, capitalizing on a lack of entertainment opportunities in the hurricane and flood-ravaged city.

Figures released Tuesday by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board showed Boomtown New Orleans, on the Mississippi River's west bank in Harvey, collected $24.6 million in gaming revenue during the month, a 141.6 percent increase from $10.2 million in January 2005.

Throughout Louisiana, gaming revenue from riverboat casinos in January was $169.3 million, a jump of 30.3 percent from $129.9 million a year ago.

However, the state's largest casino, Harrah's New Orleans, remained closed for the fifth straight month because of the affects of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city Aug. 29. The casino reopened on Friday in time for the city's Mardi Gras celebration.

The gaming win marked the fourth straight month Boomtown's 45,000-square-foot casino's gaming revenue increased more than 100 percent, compared to the same month in the previous year.

Boomtown General Manager David Williams said the casino has had huge nonstop customer volume since it reopened five weeks after Hurricane Katrina and the storm's subsequent flooding decimated much of New Orleans.

The community of Harvey did not sustain the flood damage felt in the New Orleans inner-city, and the area has become the home for many displaced residents. Some people who lost their homes in the flooding, Williams said, are living with relatives in Harvey. Others have rented the community's available housing.

"We're in an area where there is still not a lot of outlets for discretionary spending," Williams said. "The area still doesn't have a lot of restaurants or movie theaters open, so people are coming here. It hasn't let up since October."

Boomtown, one of three Louisiana casino operated by Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment, has also experienced large jumps in restaurant revenue. The casino had more than 280,000 visitors during the month.

Williams said the manager of a neighboring Outback Steakhouse restaurant told him the store was the No. 1 revenue producer in the country's chain last month because there is a lack of competition in the market.

"Fortunately, we've been able to hire more staff to service our guests," Williams said. "People have to have somewhere to go and we seem to be the place."

With Harrah's New Orleans reopening, Williams said business at Boomtown was off by about 10 percent. In January 2005, Harrah's New Orleans reported gaming revenue of $27.5 million.

"We're still going to have good numbers but we figured (Harrah's New Orleans) would get some of our business," Williams said.

Meanwhile, Boyd Gaming Corp.'s Treasure Chest, in suburban Kenner outside of New Orleans, had its gaming revenue jump 77.4 percent, collecting $16.8 million in January compared with $9.5 million a year ago. The revenue total marked the third straight month the casino showed a better than 70 percent increase.

Boyd Gaming spokesman Rob Stillwell said the return of longtime customers, as well as an influx of hurricane relief and recovery workers, has accounted for the Treasure Chest's growth.

Bear Sterns gaming analyst Joe Greff said all Louisiana casinos are getting a boost from the hurricane recovery efforts.

"Statewide results are receiving a strong boost from population shift and construction crews (and) other personnel in the region for the post-hurricane reconstruction," Greff said in a note to investors. "We think displaced gamblers from the mostly shuttered Mississippi coastal casinos are boosting business in Louisiana."

The state's other hurricane-ravaged gaming community, Lake Charles, which was struck by Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24, also experienced a year-over-year gaming revenue increase despite the continued closure of two Harrah's-owned riverboat casinos that were destroyed in the storm.

Pinnacle's L'Auberge du Lac casino, which opened in May, reported gaming revenue of $23 million. Gaming analysts said the casino is picking up the bulk of the business displaced by the Harrah's casino boat closures.

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