Green: Keeping a close eye on the gaming industry

Let’s take a step back to Shreveport-Bossier to the late 1980s. It was a dark time for the area as the oil crash had created an economic vacuum and there was no real major prospects on the horizon…That is, until the area hit the “jackpot” by luring gaming to the Red River.

Fast forward and it’s hard to believe how the area has changed in a little over two decades.

Gaming has allowed Shreveport-Bossier to diversify its economy, boosted the tourism industry, and generated sales taxes that have been reinvested into the community. Everything from teacher salaries and public safety, to roads and quality of life enhancements stem from gaming.

But it’s no secret that the health of the gaming industry in Shreveport-Bossier has been on the decline. While the national economic downturn didn’t help, the main culprit is competition in Oklahoma along the Texas border.

Now, that competition has gotten a little steeper thanks to our neighbor up north.

Arkansas voters approved a state constitutional amendment on the November 6 ballot to allow casino gaming. It will come as no surprise that Hot Springs, a historic gambling town, and West Memphis are eyed for expansion of gaming. But I would bet that the state capitol, and largest city, in Little Rock gets in on the action too.

We should know more by the middle of the year, but looking closer at the numbers, this latest development will cause some alarm.

The Shreveport-Bossier City market saw a $28 million decrease in revenues in the 2016-17 fiscal year, while numbers from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board shows a loss of more than 1,100 casino jobs from 2014 to 2018.

Moreover, state economist Dr. Loren Scott’s analysis of the Shreveport-Bossier Metropolitan Statistical Area doesn’t hold good news for the near future.

“There appears from the data to be no reason for hope that there will be an arresting of the downward employment trend in this industry,” Dr. Scott said in his Louisiana Economic Outlook.

The good news is that the state is being proactive.

Local economic and business officials met with the Riverboat Economic and Gaming Task Force almost a year ago to urge modernization of gaming laws, and these were approved in the Louisiana Legislature earlier this year.

This will allow the casinos to move a little further onto land and expand their offerings while better utilizing their existing space.

Is this enough to hedge the loss of gamblers, weekend vacationers, and tourists to Oklahoma and, now, Arkansas? It’s too early to tell.

But the economic health of the local casinos will be closely watched. We can only hope that ownership of the boats on both sides of the river makes wise investments, and quick ones, or else the heyday of our casinos may be consigned to the past.

Sean Green is Publisher and Editor of BIZ. Magazine