Louisiana Casino Operator Considers Gambling Boat Switch

New Orleans (AP) — Casino operator Columbia Sussex Corp. is considering a switch of its two Louisiana gambling riverboats in a move that would bring Baton Rouge a larger facility and send a smaller boat to the Morgan City area, a parish official said Tuesday.

The St. Mary Parish Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a resolution stating that the parish has no objection to the switch of the Belle of Baton Rouge and the Amelia Belle, parish president Paul Naquin Jr. said.

The council vote is scheduled only a few days after voters in East Baton Rouge Parish approved a USD 250 million plan by Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. to bring a third riverboat casino to Baton Rouge.

That casino will compete with Fort Mitchell, Ky.-based Columbia Sussex’s Belle of Baton Rouge and the Hollywood Casino, owned by Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming Inc.

Naquin said Columbia Sussex head William J. Yung met with parish officials about two months ago and asked if they had any objection to moving the larger Amelia casino to Baton Rouge and replacing it with the smaller Baton Rouge boat, Naquin said.

Yung agreed that the new boat in Amelia would undergo renovations and would have a third-story restaurant such as the Amelia Belle now has, Naquin said. Naquin said employment would be „pretty much the same.“ When it opened in May 2007, the casino had 425 employees.

Columbia Sussex has not filed a petition with the Louisiana Gaming Control Board to switch boats, said Lana Tramonte, a top assistant to the regulatory panel. The move would have to be approved by the board.

Belle of Baton Rouge general manager Bubba Willis referred calls for comment to the company’s headquarters. Yung did not return a call.

Before Saturday’s referendum, Columbia Sussex had revealed its intention to bring a larger boat to Baton Rouge. Hollywood also is looking at the possibility of moving a larger boat to Baton Rouge.

Although Louisiana riverboats are limited to 30,000 square feet of gambling space, the boat currently stationed in Amelia — one of the larger in the state — has two decks that could be used for restaurants and entertainment space. It was formerly Bally’s Casino in New Orleans, which was moved out by Columbia Sussex following Hurricane Katrina, and opened as the Amelia Belle last May.

During December, the latest month for which state police figures are available, the Belle of Baton Rouge won USD 7.9 million from gamblers, less than its rival Hollywood, which took in USD 11.6 million. The Amelia Belle won USD 4.5 million.

In December, Columbia Sussex lost its license to operate the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., a decision that came from New Jersey regulators after the company cut more than 900 jobs, leading to complaints about cleanliness and service.

The company currently has 10 operating casinos, but plans to sell casinos in Indiana and Vicksburg, Miss.