Despite continued soft markets, new casinos have been opening and others have been expanding in the South, providing more opportunities and choices for upscale meetings and entertainment.
Mississippi is celebrating 20 years of commercial casino gaming this year; for Louisiana next year will be 20 years.
In Louisiana, new commercial casinos [non-Indian] are planned for Shreveport and Lake Charles, and Baton Rouge is slated to get its third riverboat gaming facility by Labor Day.
Mississippi’s Gulf Coast recently welcomed its 12th casino—bringing it back to the number it had before 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Also, Mississippi River casino destinations have been recovering from the effects of the spring floods of last year.
Meanwhile, Native American facilities have continued to expand in Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana and North Carolina.
The Magnolia State’s 2011 spending on commercial [non-Indian] casino gaming totaled $2.24 billion, down 6.3 percent from 2010, according to the American Gaming Association (AGA).
Of the state’s 30 casinos, 12 are along the Gulf, most in Biloxi. They account for 5,560 of the coast’s 13,000 guest rooms.
With two gaming paddle-wheelers, the Isle of Capri started things off for Biloxi when it opened in the summer of 1992 as the state’s first casino. Tunica’s first casino opened in October that year.
For the Gulf, the construction meant $6 billion in new building and a growth in visitor numbers from one million a year to 8 million to 10 million in peak years.
“No one envisioned the scope or the impact gaming would have on Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the next 20 years,” says Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway.
Flashing forward to today, the Gulf’s 12th casino opened in May in Biloxi’s Back Bay. The new $62 million, 820-slot Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant Biloxi includes a multipurpose room that seats 300 for banquets, and a marina.
Last October, Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming acquired IP Casino Resort & Spa and last summer Palace Casino Resort finished a $45 million renovation that added 1,800 square feet of meeting space.
Biloxi’s Isle Casino Hotel—which is being sold to Houston-based Landry’s Inc.—will be rebranded the Golden Nugget Biloxi following a $150 million renovation next year. Meanwhile, Las Vegas-based Full House Resorts is acquiring Silver Slipper Casino in Bay St. Louis and plans to add a hotel to the property. Silver Slipper was the state’s first land-based casino upon opening in 2006.
Tunica, sometimes called the “Casino Capital of the South,” has 10 casinos, all with hotels. They account for 5,800 of the area’s 6,300 hotel rooms. Last year the area’s casinos were closed beginning in late April because of flooding, but all of them reopened before Memorial Day.
The two hotels at the largest meetings resort, the 1,356-room Harrah’s Casino Tunica, and its Mid-South Convention Center with more than over 45,000 square feet of meeting space, remained open. Caesars Entertainment operates the Horseshoe Tunica and the Tunica Roadhouse Casino & Hotel, Among other major meetings properties are the 1,260-room Gold Strike Casino Resort, with 30,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 1,076-room Sam’s Town with 50,000 square feet.
After cleanup and repairs, Tunica Riverpark & Museum—which showcases the Mississippi and has cruises and meeting space—reopened this year in mid-April.
“We used the flooding as an opportunity to improve and we have plans for even more updates in the months ahead,” says Webster Franklin, CEO of the Tunica CVB.
This past May—a year after closing from floods—Tunica’s River Bend Links course reopened.
Moving 112 miles south from Tunica, Greenville has the land-based Harlow’s Casino Resort & Hotel, offering 105 guest rooms. Opened in 2007 and acquired by Churchill Downs Inc. in late 2010, it reopened in June of last year after being closed for 25 days. A new multipurpose event center is slated to open early next year at the property to replace its flood-damaged 2,600-seat venue.
Greenville’s two riverboat casinos—Jubilee and Lighthouse Point—were consolidated into one new $6.8 million facility in May, the Trop Casino Greenville. Slots are split between the rebranded Lighthouse and a new land-based facility (Jubilee was closed). Owner Las Vegas-based Tropicana Entertainment Inc. also owns the adjacent 41-suite Greenville Inn & Suites.
“We are confident that our expanded and rebranded property will serve as an important anchor for Greenville’s downtown revitalization efforts,” says Tropicana Regional General Manager Chris Strobbe.
Further south is Vicksburg, where some casinos closed in the 2011 floods.
The number of casinos (all of which have hotels) dropped from six to five in March with the closure of Grand Station Casino, formerly the Horizon Casino and under new ownership since 2010. Under new owners, the hotel remains open as the LLQ Hotel.
Other casino hotels are Riverwalk, Ameristar, DiamondJacks and Rainbow. Rainbow Casino is undergoing a $5 million renovation and will take on the Lady Luck brand of owner Isle of Capri Casinos.
With commercial casino revenues of $2.37 billion last year—flat over 2010—Louisiana overtook Mississippi as the South’s top casino state.
It has one land-based casino—Harrah’s New Orleans—13 riverboat casinos, four racetrack casinos and three tribal facilities.
Straddling the Red River and drawing heavily on Texas markets, Shreveport and Bossier City have five riverboat casinos, each with a hotel and meeting space.
Two in Shreveport, both within walking distance of the Shreveport Convention Center, are Sam’s Town and Eldorado. Bossier City has DiamondJacks, Boomtown and Horseshoe, plus Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Casino & Racetrack. The largest meeting spaces are at DiamondJacks and Sam’s Town which—respectively—have 20,000 and 18,000 square feet of meeting space.
In June, Paradise Casino LLC unveiled plans for a $170 million, 400-room Margaritaville Hotel & Casino along Bossier City’s riverfront. Ground is slated to break early next year.
Isle of Capri in February sold the smaller of its two Lake Charles riverboat casinos to Paradise. It consolidated casino operations in the remaining riverboat.
“The sale allows us to run a more efficient operation and, in combination with recent renovations to the casino, enhances our guest experience in Lake Charles,” says Virginia McDowell, Isle president and CEO.
The renovation of 253 main-tower rooms in the Lake Charles property is expected to be completed by November, she adds.
Lake Charles has two waterfront casino resorts. Nearby Vinton has the 250-room Delta Downs Racetrack & Casino.
In addition to the 400-room Isle of Capri, which has 14,500 square feet of meeting space, Lake Charles offers the 1,000-room L’Auberge du Lac Hotel & Casino with 28,000 square feet of meeting space. Also, Ameristar Casinos is opening a $500 million casino hotel adjacent to L’Auberge in mid-2014.
By Labor Day, Pinnacle expects to unveil its $368 million, 206-room L’Auberge Casino & Hotel on Baton Rouge’s waterfront. It will include 13,000 square feet of meeting space.
Baton Rouge has two riverboat casinos: Belle of Baton Rouge Casino & Hotel with 42,000 square feet of meeting space close to the River Center, the city’s convention facility; and farther upriver, Hollywood Casino.
New Orleans has the land-based 450-room Harrah’s New Orleans, two riverboat casinos—Kenner’s Treasure Chest and Harvey’s Boomtown—and one racino, Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Dubuque-based Peninsula Gaming operates Evangeline Downs, north of Lafayette, with a 1,200-seat events center and a 117-room hotel; and the riverboat Amelia Belle Casino near Morgan City, south of New Orleans. Boyd Gaming announced in May that it is acquiring Peninsula for $1.45 billion.
Louisiana has three tribal casinos.
The Coushatta Tribe will open a hotel addition this summer, the 400-room Seven Clans Hotel, at its Grand Casino Coushatta in Kinder, bringing its total number of rooms to 950. The resort’s 57,000 square feet of meeting space and an 18-hole golf course. Last January it added a bingo hall.
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe operates the 500-room Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, which has an 18-hole golf course, and more than 75,000 square feet of function space.
Also, the Chitimacha Tribe operates the 1,350-slot Cypress Bayou Casino with a 50,000-square-foot entertainment/dining pavilion in Charenton, southwest of Lafayette.
Florida has eight tribal casinos—seven operated by the Seminole Tribe and one by the Miccosukee Tribe. It also has five racinos.
The Seminoles’ seven casinos include two with hotels—the 500-room Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood, with 40,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 250-room Seminole Hard Rock Tampa with 10,000 square feet of meeting space. In June the Tampa property opened a $75 million expansion, including a new restaurant, parking and 32,000 square feet of gaming space.
North of Fort Lauderdale, the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek early this year completed a $150 million expansion that included increasing the gaming floor size, adding restaurants and parking, and a new 1,200-seat show venue.
The Miccosukee Tribe’s 302-room Miccosukee Resort & Gaming has a 1,200-seat high-stakes bingo hall, 46,000 square feet of meeting space and 27 holes of golf.
Voters approved racinos in Broward County [Fort Lauderdale area] in 2006 and Miami-Dade in 2008. Miami-Dade’s two casinos are Calder Casino & Race Course and Magic City Casino at Flagler Dog Track. Broward’s three casinos are Gulfstream Park, Mardi Gras Racetrack & Gaming Center, and Isle Casino Racing Pompano Beach.
According to the 2012 Indian Gaming Industry Report, in 2010, 33 Oklahoma tribes operated 113 gaming facilities, many of them small at travel centers, smoke shops, and retail facilities. Total gaming revenue increased 4 percent to $3.23 billion in 2010 following increases of 6.9 percent in 2009 and 18 percent in 2008.
The state’s first casino resort—opened seven years ago in Catoosa outside Tulsa—is expanding again. The Cherokee Nation’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa will complete by year’s end a third hotel tower with 100 suites and an additional 55,000 square feet of entertainment and gaming.
The $52 million project will bring its total rooms and suites to 456. The resort currently includes 35,000 square feet of convention space, 125,000 square feet of gaming, and golf.
“Our growth has been incredible. The addition of more hotel rooms and amenities will allow us to provide an even greater entertainment experience for our guests, ” says David Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nation Entertainment.
West of Joplin, Mo. the Quapaw Tribe is building a second hotel at its Downstream Casino Resort, a $50 million, 152-room project slated for a December completion. In June, a convenience store, gas station and RV park opened on the Missouri side of the four-year-old property, which includes 222 rooms, a conference center, a 6,200-seat outdoor concert venue and golf.
Other expansions have included the Cherokee Casino West Siloam Springs— adding a 140-room hotel—and the Choctaw Casino Resort Hotel & Conference Center in Durant, opening a 330-room hotel.
One of the country’s top racino states, the Mountain State has four racetrack casinos with a total of more than 11,500 slots. Each has a hotel and meeting space.
It also now has one non-racino casino. In July 2010 the $80 million Casino Club was unveiled at The Greenbrier, the legendary resort at White Sulphur Springs. It features 320 slots and 37 table games, two restaurants, lounges and retail boutiques. The resort has 85,000 square feet of meeting space and three championship golf courses.
Two racetrack casinos are in the Northern Panhandle: the Wheeling Island Hotel, Casino & Racetrack; and in Chester, Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort. The other two are Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in the Eastern Panhandle, the state’s largest with a 5,000-slot casino, and the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort, near Charleston, which opened a 150-room hotel in August 2010 that was formerly called the Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center.
All except Hollywood Casino added table games after their counties approved them in 2007. Jefferson County voters approved them in December 2009 for Charles Town Races & Slots, which Penn rebranded a Hollywood Casino in July 2010 after remodeling and launching table games.
North Carolina’s single casino resort is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino & Hotel. Owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, it has been undergoing a multiyear $650 million renovation and expansion that it will complete this year.
Located at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 50 miles west of Asheville, in 2010 Harrah’s opened a 3,000-seat event center and a third hotel tower with 532 rooms, bringing its total rooms to more than 1,100. It also has a 21,000-square-foot conference center and a three-year-old Robert Trent Jones II-designed golf course.
This year it has been opening new restaurants and retail stores, and will complete the doubling of gaming space to 150,000 square feet.
In June, N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law legislation that allows the Harrah’s property to offer table games, including blackjack, roulette and craps. The U.S. Department of the Interior has yet to approve the agreement between the state and tribe.
“The introduction of table games, coupled with the completion of our $650 million expansion to be completed this year, will position the resort as the premier gaming destination in the Southeast, “ says Brooks Robinson, the resort’s senior vice president and general manager.
Alabama has one casino resort: the 236-room Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, which opened in 2009 near Atmore. Owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the $250 million resort features a 1,600-slot casino and meeting space that includes a 3,241-square-foot ballroom and a 2,200-seat amphitheater. The tribe also operates the Tallapoosa Casino in Montgomery and the Riverside Casino in Wetumpka.
Slated to open in late 2014 in Nassau, the Bahamas, is Baha Mar, a 1,000-acre, $3.5 billion resort that will feature the Caribbean’s largest casino gaming and entertainment complex. The Cable Beach complex will include 2,200 rooms in Hyatt, Rosewood and Mondrian hotels, a casino hotel, an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, residential condos and villas, and a convention center providing 200,000 square feet of space.
Meanwhile, the Baha Mar Development Co. in May took over the management and operation of three hotels it owns on Cable Beach: the Radisson, Nassau Beach Hotel and the Wyndham, with the Crystal Palace Casino. It is consolidating them into one resort complex and has a $15 million capital improvement project underway for completion by year’s end.
In May, Hard Rock International announced plans for a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Aruba. The Aruba government selected Southwest Horeca Development to build the 310-room property near the capital, Oranjestad.
Puerto Rico will get its first Hyatt Place with the 156-room Hyatt Place Bayamon and El Tropical Casino. Expected to open in the first quarter of 2014 in Bayamon, it will include meeting space.
Tony Bartlett is a frequent contributor to Meetings Focus South.