La. casino restrictions face additional scrutiny

Members of a state-run task force are suggesting the time has come to let riverboat casinos onto land in Louisiana.
Current state law mandates casinos be over water, in a push to restrict where people can gamble. Another provision requires that gambling spaces stretch no larger than 30,000 square feet. These rules have been in place ever since Louisiana legalized gambling in 1991.
"We’re a quarter-century into this," Wade Duty, executive director of the Casino Association of Louisiana, said at a task force meeting Tuesday. "It’s probably time to revisit some of those standpoints."
Legislators have remained largely hesitant to change state gambling laws. The apprehension dates back to former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ term in the early 1990s.
"We had a few indictments, we had a governor who went to jail," Ronnie Jones, who operates both the riverboat gaming task force and the state gaming board, told Thursday. "I think the legislature has looked at gaming as being a radioactive issue. Nobody wanted to be associated with changing the gaming laws."
Jones said lifting the long-held rules would help Louisiana compete with casinos in states without such limits.
"Many people go to Mississippi or to Oklahoma or to tribal casinos. We hope the industry can attract them to Louisiana-licensed casinos," he said. "We have a new generation of leaders now."
The task force plans to finalize its recommendations next month, ahead of the spring legislative session. If lawmakers move to let casinos expand in size, personnel at the Belle of Baton Rouge suggest they will move into a 45,000-square-foot atrium adjacent to its hotel.
Even without loosening restrictions, Louisiana’s gaming industry remains largely stable. In Baton Rouge — home of L’Auberge, Hollywood Casino and the Belle of Baton Rouge — casinos employ 500 more people than in 2011. Gaming revenues in the city this year are poised to surpass last year’s numbers.

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