Gaming up nationally — but Louisiana gets hammered

America‘s casino industry had a winning month in January, up 3.5% to $3.4 billion. Even Illinois, which has never recovered from the smoking ban, was in the top four, behind Nevada (naturally), Pennsylvania and Louisiana. The only serious loser was West Virginia, ground between the millstones of Maryland and Ohio, down 15%. Speaking of Louisiana, it did not fare so well in February, down almost 7%. The fact that 2016 had one extra day doesn’t quite cut it as an explanation for some pretty mystifying declines.

With the exception of Golden Nugget (up 7% to $12 million), the normally lucrative Lake Charles market got body-slammed. Pinnacle Entertainment‘s L’Auberge du Lac ($23 million) tumbled 14% while Isle of Capri‘s casino plunged 23% (to $9 million). Boyd Gaming‘s Delta Downs was spared the worst, slipping 4% to $15 million. In New Orleans, the smoking-permitted properties fared distinctly better than the smoke-free ones. Boomtown New Orleans was up 3% to $10.5 million, while Treasure Chest stuffed away 4% more, for $9 million. Boyd’s Amelia Belle (smokers welcome), however, took a 14% blow, down to less than $4 million.

Harrah’s New Orleans dropped 12% to $22.5 million and Churchill DownsFair Grounds racino fell 11% to $4 million. Only Baton Rouge defied the statewide trend, up 2%, led by L’Auberge Baton Rouge ($14.5 million, plus 3%) and GLPI‘s Casino Rouge, up 4% to over $6 million. Tropicana Entertainment didn’t have as much luck at Belle of Baton Rouge, down 1% to $5 million.

In the crowded Shreveport/Bossier City market, the Horseshoe led both in percentage (up 1%) and dollars grossed ($16.5 million). Margaritaville lost only a percentage point ($12.5 million), a moral victory in a month that saw screaming plunges by Eldorado Shreveport (-19%), Boomtown Bossier (-9.5%), Sam’s Town (-16%), Diamond Jack’s (-23%) and Harrah’s Louisiana Downs (-14%). Unless your name is Tilman Fertitta, there wasn’t much cause for celebration. Fertitta also had occasion to pop the champagne corks in Atlantic City, where his Golden Nugget-branded online casino made history, being the first in the city to break $5 million in a month.

* St. Jo Frontier Casino is but a minor player in the Missouri scene but not too small to ignore an 11% drop off in foot traffic. Although Vice President Jim Simms says that the business is coming back, than isn’t precluding St. Jo from making upgrades, whether they take the form of converting a bar into a full-service restaurant or outfitting casino staff with new uniforms. The casino that does not continually reinvent is by definition moving backwards. The stagnation at St. Jo may have been a by-blow of the incessant struggle for power between previous ownership and new bosses Z Capital Partners. Regardless, Simms says, “We also want to hear from customers that have issues.” That’s the spirit.

* Since terrestrial casino play peaked in West Virginia in 2007, it’s no surprise that legislation has been introduced to permit online gambling — at least to the extent of poker — making West Virginia the eight state to be doing it this spring. (Sheldon Adelson is definitely swimming against a strong current.) As the American Gaming Association puts it, “Over the past decade, West Virginia’s casino industry has seen an explosion of competition from surrounding states. In 2006, none of its neighbors had casinos. But today, there are a total of 28 casinos operating in three of the five states that border West Virginia.” Considering the gravity of the situation, one would have the rate the bill’s chances as strong.

* Opposition to Internet gambling in Pennsylvania just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Steve Ruddock quantifies why.

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