By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s riverboat casinos would be able to move onshore, under a proposal that won support Tuesday from senators who spurned a separate measure to move one of the 15 casinos from the northwestern end of the state to the southeast.
The Senate voted 22-14 for the river-to-shore proposal by Sen. Ronnie Johns, two votes more than needed.
Passage to the House came after a heated debate about whether the bill’s provisions could be considered an expansion of gambling in a state with 15 riverboat casinos, video poker, a lottery, slot machines at racetracks and a land-based casino in New Orleans.
The measure would allow Louisiana’s riverboat casinos to conduct gambling activities within 1,200 feet on land from their licensed berth and would remove the requirement the riverboats have an operable paddlewheel.
The limits on riverboat casino gambling space would be reworked. A restriction that currently keeps the facilities to no more than 30,000 square feet of gambling space would be replaced with a cap on gambling positions — essentially the number of seats in front of slot machines and table games — at 2,365.
Johns, a Lake Charles Republican, said the changes would modernize an industry that has been allowed to make few changes since Louisiana’s riverboat casino law was passed more than 25 years ago. He said the adjustments would accommodate larger slot machines with newer technology and help the casinos compete with facilities in Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Sen. Barrow Peacock, a Shreveport Republican, urged passage, saying the riverboats in his region offer thousands of jobs with “wonderful salaries.”
“Let’s allow these corporate citizens to compete and not handcuff them,” he said.
Opponents objected to changes they said could boost gambling activity.
Sen. John Milkovich, a Democrat from Keithville, talked of people who “drive their cars into the Red River because they’re addicted to gambling” and had a bad night at the boats. He said the casinos are “funneling money from the middle class” and sending it to “gambling syndicates” in New Jersey and Nevada.
Republican Sen. Danny Martiny, of Kenner, chastised his colleagues for taking the tax dollars from gambling and spending them annually in the budget while objecting to the industry.
“Let’s face it: This is a vital industry here in the state, and we need money,” he said.
While Johns’ bill squeaked out of the Senate, senators stalled a measure by Sen. Mack “Bodi” White that would create a referendum process for voters in Tangipahoa Parish to decide if they want to move a riverboat casino from Bossier City to a shallow river there.
Fifteen senators supported White’s proposal, while 18 voted against it. The legislation by the Baton Rouge-area Republican needed 20 votes to pass.