he license came open when Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entretainment scrapped plans for a second casino-hotel project in Lake Charles and returned the license to the state.
Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Dane Morgan said this week that the board, after receiving expressions of interest from three possible operators, decided to open a formal application period that ends September 23.
Those expressing interest so far, according to Morgan, include: Peninsula Gaming, based in Dubuque, Iowa, which now owns the Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino in Opelousas, four off-track betting parlors in the state, the Belle of Amelia riverboat casino near Morgan City and two floating casinos in Iowa.
It also includes St. Gabriel Downs, a Lafayette-based company that tried unsuccessfully for a horse racing track and slot machine casino in Iberville Parish in 2008 and a Lake Charles group known as Tomorrow's Investors. All three are privately held.
Morgan said Peninsula had not indicated where it would locate the casino, while the other two groups have pointed to the Lake Charles area, which currently has three riverboat casinos - including one owned by Pinnacle and two owned by St. Louis-based Isle of Capri Casinos - and the Delta Downs race track casino, owned by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp.
In April, Pinnacle scuttled a us$ 305 million plan to build a second hotel-casino in Lake Charles. It would have been a companion to the current L'Auberge du Lac resort, which typically leads Louisiana's 13 riverboat casinos in the amount of money won from gamblers. Instead, Pinnacle decided to concentrate on a us$ 250 million project to bring a third gambling riverboat, along with a hotel, to Baton Rouge. "I think the board's intention is having a resort concept," Morgan said of the open license.
The license is being put up at a tough time for the casino business. Numerous casino projects in the United States have been canceled or put on hold following the economic meltdown of 2008. In Louisiana, casino winnings from players last month were down 13.4 % from May 2008, mirroring drops in other states that have legal wagering.
"It's costly to finance a casino project almost any where, even in good markets," said casino analyst Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Linwood, N.J.-based Spectrum Gaming Group.
Weinert said most of the industry has buckled down for a potentially long and difficult economic haul and a new casino project "almost has to be an automatic home run." "If they believe in a project, they have to go on a real treasure hunt to get financing," he said.