BATON ROUGE — Louisiana's 15 floating casinos, which haven't left their docks since the turn of the century, can end the sham and move ashore after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a law allowing riverboats to throw off their moorings for good.
No market has the potential to be more affected than Shreveport-Bossier City, where six of the state's 15 boats are docked and where industry officials have said competition from Oklahoma has cut their business by 20 percent.
"(Shreveport-Bossier City) is taking a beating because the Indian tribes in southern Oklahoma are building huge casinos on the (Texas-Oklahoma) border," said Senate Bill 316 author Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, during debate on the bill.
Johns noted the Oklahoma casinos have no limitations and pay no taxes, while the gambling industry contributes $900 million annually to Louisiana's state tax coffers.
"This is something Shreveport-Bossier City needs to compete with Oklahoma," said Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, during testimony.
Under the new law riverboat casinos can move ashore as long as they remain within 1,200 feet of their current berths and can demonstrate the move is an economic development project that will grow the local economy.
The law also allows for more gambling space within the casinos, although it does cap the number of "gaming positions" at 2,365. Golden Nugget in Lake Charles currently has the most gaming positions among riverboats at 2,152.
"This bill doesn't expand gaming in any way, shape or form," Johns said in an interview with USA Today Network. "It's strictly a modernization bill, an economic development bill."
But others disagreed during debate in the Senate and House.
"This will be the largest expansion of gambling in this state's history," said Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, who testified in opposition.
"Don't be misled," said Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches. "This is a gambling expansion."
Senate Bill 316, now Act 469, came out of a 17-month study of the industry by a legislative task force.
It's not yet clear which casinos, if any, will ultimately choose to move ashore.
Louisiana's riverboat casinos haven't been forced to sail since that law was changed 17 years ago, which is why Johns and other lawmakers said the previous law was a sham.
"We're the last state in America to require them to be on water," he said.