Rockett: Modernization brings opportunity for NWLA

Opportunity abounds for gaming in Northwest Louisiana as the industry has the potential to take on a new incarnation.  With the House nodding its approval of Senate Bill 316, the modernization of the nearly 25-year-old riverboat gaming laws will indeed impact our local industry.

The Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation (GBEDF) has previously offered commentary on the proposed legislation while outlining the economic benefits that this cornerstone industry supporting some 6,000 employees presents to the region.  Jobs in this industry provide a sustainable wage with average annual earnings of over $20,000.  Looking back over the past two-plus decades, the gaming industry has allowed our local economy to diversify and reinvest revenue into services for our ever-growing community.  This can be seen through the funding of teacher salaries, public safety, and the addition of iconic capital investment projects that bring in additional revenue through tourism and jobs.

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There is a lot of opportunity being offered to our region with the passage of the legislation.  Industries need to adapt and change when responding to the market, and our state’s gaming market is not immune to a need for change.  Changes brought about in this particular legislation help to address three issues, all of which involve safety and competitiveness.  The provisions to the original law allow casinos to move onto land, host four tournaments per year, and gives them the flexibility with gaming space and positions to accommodate technologically modern machines.  These changes would not be considered an expansion of gaming, simply an effort to keep operations within this industry performing at an optimum level.

Senate Bill 316 has allowed our market to be more competitive, but let’s not halt the breaks on other opportunities that are presently being considered which will further continue the success of this industry.  On the federal level, a sports betting moratorium was recently ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court late this spring.  The high court’s ruling gives individual states the authority to legalize regulated sports betting, effectively eliminating the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) which banned sports betting in every state except Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana.  U.S.A. Today reports that despite PASPA’s existence, the American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates at least $150B a year is gambled on sports in the U.S. and 97% of that amount was bet illegally.

This ruling could be a big win for Louisiana’s budget woes.  As the 2018 special session unfolds and seeks to solve Louisiana’s ongoing budget gap, we could see legislation take shape that would mirror other state’s initiative to capitalize on sports betting. Some view the ruling as a good sign, as it certainly regulates illegal sports betting and brings with it potential capital expenditures and job growth within the market.  Others argue that incorporating sports betting will only bring on negative consequences.  These same arguments and fear tactics were brought up in 1992 when the industry was taking shape.   

At the end of the day, this year’s regular session played a critical first step in addressing laws that support a major sector of our economy and the state.  As a result of the modernization efforts, the opportunity to spur economic development with new construction, the potential to increase revenue for state and local coffers, and adding to the existing employment base presents itself in a time of need.

Rocky Rockett, Executive Director | Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation (GBEDF)