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Louisiana casinos look to rebound after year of pandemic shutdowns and restrictions

Louisiana

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on the gaming industry and local economies across Louisiana, but there is hope that things will begin to turn around in the coming year.

“Throughout the whole year, it’s been up and down,” said Louisiana Gaming Control Board Mike Noel. “Obviously, the beginning of the year, everybody was very optimistic and then the pandemic hit.”

It all came to a near-standstill when COVID-19 restrictions forced them to close their doors for months, only to reopen in July at limited capacity. Noel said revenue was down 28% last year and traffic in and out of the casinos was cut nearly in half. Louisiana casinos lost $800 million in revenue in 2019.

“In total revenue, they were down almost a billion,” said Noel.

The lost revenue resulted in the layoffs of more than 3,500 employees. Some have since returned, but many remain unemployed.

“These are folks who’ve worked, in many cases, for a long time, and they’re like extended families. So hopefully in the coming year, as we keep our fingers crossed and hopefully a little closer to normal, that a lot of these jobs will come back.”

Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce President Tim Magner says it has had a ripple effect on the local economy.

“Because the gaming industry is such a significant part of our economy here and because they have as many hospitality industries that have seen a significant downturn, that does have a deleterious impact on our local economy,” Magner said.

In May of 2020, DiamondJacks casino announced it was closing for good because of the pandemic, holding a liquidation sale in October to sell off everything from commercial kitchen and laundry equipment to flat-screen TVs and stage lights.

Noel said it’s also been difficult to compete with casinos in nearby states.

“The Shreveport-Bossier market has been tough,” said Noel. “A lot of competition from the Oklahoma casinos that pull a lot of patrons from the Dallas-Forth Worth market, and that has impacted Shreveport-Bossier for many years.”

Casinos are currently open and operating at a 50 to 75% capacity, depending on positivity rates in the parishes where they operate.

“Our current plan is for them to continue to do what they have been doing for many months with all of the safety precautions that they have to follow to remain open and provide a safe game area,” Noel said.

Noel hopes the casino industry, now approaching 30 years in Louisiana, will begin to bounce back as more vaccines become available and efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus continue. It could get a boost when sports betting becomes available in 55 of the state’s 64 parishes, including all but one Northwest Louisiana parish.

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