Baton Rouge’s riverboat casinos had a modest reopening from the coronavirus pandemic in mid-May, bringing in 36% of the revenue they took in for the entire month of May 2019.

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The 14 riverboat casinos and three racinos that were open in May brought in $70.4 million in May, according to figures released by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. That’s down from the nearly $218 million the state’s gambling properties brought in during May 2019. 

Video poker revenue was down by 56% in May to $23.9 million from $54.2 million in 2019.

Still, Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association, said he was encouraged by the May turnout over just a two-week period. When compared to the same late-May time period in 2019, he said that the volume of gamblers was down just 13%.

“Turnout was greater than what we were expecting,” he said. “Understandably, folks are cautious, but the casinos are trying to balance a lot of regulatory and health care concerns.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards partially lifted the state's stay-at-home order last month, which allowed most riverboats, racinos and video poker parlors to open at 25% of capacity on May 18. Because New Orleans was under a different stay-at-home order, the Harrah’s Canal Street casino remained closed along with the slots at the Fair Grounds race track. Those properties, which account for a significant share of the New Orleans gambling market, weren’t allowed to reopen until Saturday.

The May 2019 revenue figures also include the Diamond Jacks riverboat casino in Bossier City, which announced its permanent closure in May due to the impact of the pandemic.

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Duty said it will be interesting to see if the two-week numbers in May reflect pent-up demand from people who wanted to get out of the house after being cooped up at home for two months.

There were 432,612 people admitted onto riverboat casinos in May, a 75% drop from the 1.75 million admissions for all of May 2019.

Baton Rouge’s three riverboat casinos brought in nearly $7.5 million during the 13 days they were open, compared to the $20.6 million full-month figures a year ago.

The numbers are also similar to the nearly 58% decrease the riverboats posted in March, when they went from $23.6 million in revenue to $10 million. The casinos were shut down on March 17 as part of a measure aimed at reducing the spread of the pandemic. A few days before Edwards issued the order, concerts and special events at gambling halls started getting postponed or canceled.

Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge was down 58.5% to $2 million in May from $4.7 million a year ago; L’Auberge Baton Rouge, down 63.1% to $4.9 million from $13.2 million; and the Belle of Baton Rouge, down 76.5% to $617,758 from $2.6 million.

Because of the closure of Harrah’s and the Fair Grounds, the New Orleans casino market had an 87.5% drop in casino revenue during May, falling from $54.5 million to $6.8 million. The riverboat market was down 72.1% from $24.3 million to $6.8 million.

Boomtown dropped from $10.3 million to $3.9 million, a 61.9% decrease. Treasure Chest was down 75.5% from $9.9 million to $2.4 million. The Kenner riverboat reopened two days after most of the other properties in the state. Amelia Belle, which reopened more than a week later than the other boats, was down 89.6% from $4.1 million to $423,715.

In other markets, Lake Charles was down by 56.9%, the smallest decrease in the state. Business at the three riverboat casinos and the slots at Delta Downs dropped from $77.8 million to $33.5 million in May. Shreveport, which had one fewer riverboat this year than in May 2019, was down by 64.5% from $57.5 million to $20.4 million. And Acadiana, which is made up the slot at Evangeline Downs, was down 70.8% from $7.7 million to $2.3 million.


Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.