Kenner, casino companies react to bill to allow riverboat casinos operate dockside

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The mayor of Kenner said Wednesday that having Treasure Chest Casino operate dockside would be a win-win for the city.

And the company running Boomtown Casino along the Harvey Canal on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish expressed excitement about the opportunities a bill awaiting the governor's signature would provide.

"Treasure Chest has been great for the City of Kenner already," said Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn. " If you enlarge that footprint out there, that now they can become land-based which is what's obviously going to happen that increases our revenue."

Zahn reacted to the Louisiana Legislature giving final approval to SB 316 which would allow the state's riverboat casinos to build facilities onshore within 1200 feet of the vessel's licensed berth for gaming activities, essentially making them land-based casinos.

"When you're taking $2.50 off each person that comes into the Treasure Chest into a confined area on a boat, but that footprint is enlarged that multiplies and multiplies for us," Zahn further stated.

He said revenues from the casino benefit city capital improvement efforts, as well as the police department.

The bill that Gov. John Bell Edwards is expected to sign into law is praised by the riverboat gaming industry.

"We really are enjoying the possibility of all the things that we may be able to do in the future," said Troy Stremming, of Pinnacle Entertainment, which operates Boomtown.  While he said it was too early to talk about specific plans resulting from the legislation, he said changes are needed.

Currently, gaming vessels in the state are limited to 30,000 square feet of gaming space.  The law passed by both chambers of the legislature would replace that restriction with a cap of 2,365 gaming positions, like slot machines and table games.

"The square footage restriction, paddlewheels, things like that, that have been in place for some time, it's just very nice to be able to again offer a great environment for our guests and not be limited by these regulatory restrictions," said Stremming.

Treasure Chest is part of Boyd Gaming Corporation. During an end of April conference call company President and CEO Keith Smith talked about the benefits of a law change when asked about the legislation.

"I think we have some great opportunities to take advantage of them, especially at some place like Treasure Chest where we have a very strong business. It's been growing for 10 or 12 quarters in a row now. And we've just got a very strong business that's on a three-story river boat, and the ability then to do something much more compelling there and take advantage of that market is very significant," Smith said.

While Mayor Zahn stressed that Treasure Chest is committed to his community, he added that when riverboat casinos become landside they cannot simply pick up and move like vessels with the capability of sailing.

"Once they have the opportunity to build something, a permanent structure here, we've always said that boat can sail tomorrow, okay. But them building a permanent structure here definitely locks them in and makes them an even better neighbor and friend to the City of Kenner

The bill passed out of the state House after already having the senate's approval.

Rep. Pat Connick, who represents the area where Boomtown Casino is located voted no on the measure.

"Everybody's trying to grow and get bigger and get better machines and more attractive machines and make more money, that's the whole goal but then, do we have enough of that in the state already," said Rep. Connick.

Connick believes the legislation would lead to even more gaming expansion.

"Once you get on that slippery slope you're going to slide down it, and that's what's happening now in the state," he said.

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