Weak economy

Twice a month, casino player Marie Parker made the drive from Lufkin, Texas, to Lake Charles to try her luck at the city’s four riverboats. That is, until the economy took a nosedive.

Parker recently had to pull $5,000 out of her savings account to cover the expenses of once fully-rented property that is now only half-occupied. As a result, her casino trips are fewer in number.

“Everything is just gradually going down,” Parker said. “I’m sure it will go down to once a month, and maybe not at all.”

So far, none of Louisiana’s 14 state-licensed riverboat casinos and Harrah’s New Orleans Casino are forecasting hard times because of the economy and the sharp drop in tourism following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But there have been worker cutbacks at several of the gambling halls. In addition, casinos are facing tigher profit margins because of higher tax rates imposed for dockside gambling, which has failed to bring in the additional dollars once forecast.

“The bottom has not fallen out of it by any means,” said Wade Duty, director of the Casino Association of Louisiana, which represents nine of the state’s 14 riverboats. “But we’ve seen some slowing since Sept. 11. Besides that, consumer spending is not what it was last year.”

In October, the New Orleans land casino and the riverboats won $144 million, down from September’s tally of $150.7 million. But according to state casino revenue reports, the casino markets taking the biggest hits were Shreveport-Bossier City, with five boats, and Lake Charles, with four boats, both of which are heavily dependent upon gamblers from Texas.

Shreveport-Bossier City’s casino winnings dropped 8.6 percent from September to $59.9 million, while Lake Charles was down 4.5 percent to $28.7 million.

“People are just not traveling as much,” Duty said. “But I think that will change over time.”

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