Will new poker rooms have major effect in Louisiana?



The imminent opening of two poker rooms in South Louisiana has created quite a buzz among local players. L’Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles and the Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge have confirmed an entrance into the live poker market, but both operations are playing it close to the vest when it comes to details.

That’s understandable when you consider the opening of these rooms could seriously alter the landscape of Louisiana poker.

Without question, market share is a big part of the appeal. Poker rooms in the southwest corner of the state continue to thrive largely because of an influx of players from Texas.

With Houston just three hours away and shuttles that run seven days a week, Texas players have an option that’s comparatively close to home. A large part of the casinos’ marketing dollars goes toward attracting these shippers; there seems to be a billboard at every mile marker along the I-10 corridor.

While this has proved to be a profitable strategy, one can reasonably expect the new rooms to place a higher priority on locals given the companies behind the scenes. One of them could also open the door to land-based poker rooms.

Hollywood Baton Rouge is owned and operated by Penn National Gaming, which also owns Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa. The company is familiar with the effect of gaming on the racing industry.

Just a few short years ago thoroughbred racing was on life support, especially in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, until the state legislatures approved the placement of slot machines and video poker at local tracks. Within a short period of time the purse values increased to the point that horses in Louisiana now compete for more added money than anywhere in the United States. The same thing happened in Pennsylvania with Penn National leading the way.

So, what does this have to do with poker? It introduces the presence of a powerful lobbyist in Penn National who could wield considerable influence on the state legislature when the issue of poker rooms at the racetrack comes up. The state has been debating it for some time, and now you have the presence of a company who has been there and done that preparing to enter the local poker market. They have demonstrated that gaming revenues can revitalize not only the racing industry but state coffers in the process.

The legalization of land-based poker rooms in Louisiana would be a tremendous shot in the arm for markets such as Shreveport/Bossier City, which have seen revenues decline with the opening of poker rooms in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

It would also make it a lot easier for the World Series of Poker to have a circuit stop at Horseshoe Bossier City, which is rumored to be on the schedule, though WSOP director Jack Effel would not confirm at press time.

Under law the tournament series would have to take place on the boat, which leaves only one option: the Horseshoe rooftop. When word leaked that the WSOP was attempting to schedule an August series on the Horseshoe roof it was obvious to the local players that whoever was in charge has not been to Louisiana in August. A study done while Dennis Jones managed the room revealed that the cost of temporary air conditioning on the roof was prohibitive. A viable solution is a mere 100 yards from the boat: the Horseshoe Riverdome. It’s more than adequate to stage a WSOPC event, but unless someone develops a way to make it float that won’t happen.

L’Auberge du Lac in Lake Charles doesn’t seem to have a dog in the land-based fight, but they do have something that might make them a force to be reckoned with. L’Auberge is owned and operated by Pinnacle Entertainment. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Pinnacle owns and operates Boomtown New Orleans.

In 2011 Boomtown New Orleans has been Louisiana’s biggest success story (see On The River, February 2011). Pinnacle was able to turn around the New Orleans room after closing its room at Boomtown Shreveport. Experience can be the best teacher, and Boomtown has made the most of its schooling.

There’s no reason to suggest they will not succeed at L’Auberge du Lac, but, just as they did in New Orleans, Pinnacle will adopt a slow and steady approach. Early reports are that L’Auberge will open its room with a mere seven tables. It’s a risky proposition. If business booms too soon and the room isn’t prepared players will have other options close at hand.

However, if Pinnacle repeats its Boomtown New Orleans success then its local competition could be in for a rocky ride. When things in NOLA took off Pinnacle wasn’t hesitant to spend marketing money to enlarge the room and increase the promotions. With a property that ranks among the nicest in the nation, let alone Louisiana, the poker room at the L’Auberge could see rapid growth.

What all of this means for the Louisiana poker player is competition is about to increase for local support. That can only lead to a higher quality product and more games and tournaments that will appeal to the serious player. While most of the rooms in Louisiana have been content to allow Harrah’s and its WSOP brand be the big dog in the poker yard, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a lot of barking in the coming months from Hollywood Baton Rouge and L’Auberge du Lac.

— Scotty “The Spokesman” Rushing is a poker professional and sports journalist. Email him at scottyrushing@gmail.com.

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