met_crest_rh_188

The new owners of the Belle of Baton Rouge riverboat casino, top, aren't planning to move casino operations to the facility's inland atrium.

The new owners of the Belle of Baton Rouge said it’s “highly unlikely” they will take steps to move the downtown riverboat casino onto land, but they are looking at moving the Isle of Capri casino in Lake Charles.

Gary Carano, Eldorado Resorts chairman and chief executive officer, said in a conference call with analysts and investors earlier this month that the casino company is in the early stages of deciding what it will do with the Isle of Capri. The company is looking at starting work on the move in the second half of 2019, with the land-based casino coming online in 2020.

Tropicana Entertainment, the former owners of the Belle, had expressed interest in moving the casino onto land into the 80,000-square-foot atrium next to the riverboat. When it was announced in April that Eldorado had a deal to buy Tropicana, Carano expressed interest in continuing plans to move the casino.

One of the selling points was fact that the atrium was already built and had plenty of free space. Carano said it would cost far less than the $50 million to $60 million that other moves would cost the company.

But the Baton Rouge casino market has been in a prolonged slump. Year-to-year, revenue at the Belle has dropped every month since July 2017. In October, the city’s oldest riverboat brought in nearly $2.7 million in revenue, a nearly 33 percent drop from the $3.9 million it brought in during October 2017.

In contrast, the three Lake Charles riverboats have posted year-to-year gains in seven out of the first 10 months of 2018, thanks to gamblers coming over from Texas.

And Ronnie Jones, head of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, said that while the Legislature passed a bill to allow casinos to move onto land, regulators were insisting that new capital improvements be a part of any relocation.

"What the task force intended to do was not just move the slot machines onto land," Jones told the Press Club of Baton Rouge in August. "This is about building new resorts with new amenities and gambling."

Carano said during the conference call that the right range of a project to move a casino onto land was $75 million to $100 million and Eldorado was anticipating “at least” a 15 percent return on the investment.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.