Locals speak to state board about modernizing gaming laws

Local economic officials are encouraging the state’s gaming task force to embrace changes in gaming laws — like allowing riverboat casinos to move onto land — to help the industry grow and buffer against the ever-growing market in Oklahoma.

President of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce Lisa Johnson, Executive Director of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation David “Rocky” Rockett, and Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce President Dr. Tim Magner all made a presentation to the task force late last month. The group asked the Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force to consider rules to modernize gaming, noting it has been more than two decades since legislation was looked at for the industry.

“It has been 22 years since gaming was first introduced to Louisiana and the task force is looking at current regulations based around riverboat gaming,” said Johnson. “Gaming is not a new industry anymore. Competition is heavy.”

Shreveport’s gaming market ranks No. 15 in the nation in revenue with $688M, according to 2015 numbers.

The Shreveport-Bossier riverboat gaming market has a direct employment 4,317 with 9,065 support jobs and payroll of $136.8M in FY15. Visitors totaled 5,485,864 and spent nearly $275M in FY15.

“Gaming is a cornerstone of our workforce and tax base for our community,” said Rockett.

However, when compared to 2010 numbers, direct employment and support jobs had both dropped 36 percent each by 2015. Admissions had fallen 13 percent, and the number of visitors and their spending both fell by 19 percent in the same year.

“When the boats came online in 1995, you had AT&T, the timber industry, GM, General Electric, and poultry farming in our community, and now and all of those are mostly gone. We ignored the competitive nature of those industries,” Rockett explained.

In a presentation to the board, local officials cited that gaming in Louisiana is seeing diminishing returns due to limitations on gaming space and format, a high tax rate that discourages reinvestment, and lack of evolution to compete with other markets — specifically, the rise of Indian casinos just across the Texas border in Oklahoma. Nearly one of out two casino locations in the U.S. is in Oklahoma.

“Woe be unto us if we don’t help one of our major employers and at least allow them to compete against a major competitor,” Rockett said.

The tax revenue generated by casino gaming in Shreveport-Bossier has seen quality of life improvements in the construction of the CenturyLink Center, infrastructure that allowed for the development of the Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets, and several road projects just to name a few.

“It would have been difficult to create and keep up with the opportunities without that revenue,” Rockett noted.

In a story by Baton Rouge Business Report, Ronnie Jones, chair of the task force and of the Gaming Control Board, said it is likely the task force will recommend some form of land-based gaming. That move could spur investment at the local casinos, making them more competitive.

Local officials say this would help the local market in the short term by hedging against gamblers seeking cheaper alternative destinations and, long term, erosion in the form of gaming legalization in Texas.

“This is about surviving and being able to compete,” Johnson said.

[Ed.’s note: An email to the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce for comment was not returned prior to deadline for publication.]