Belterra hopes to grow Southern Indiana gaming market

Dec 5, 2000 5:51 AM

The Belterra Resort was open for only five days in October, but the newest casino in Southern Indiana is well on its way to being a hit.

The $200 million facility, in Vevay, Ind., is the third casino boat in the region, joining industry-leading Argosy in Lawrenceburg and Grand Victoria in Rising Sun.

In the Belterra Resort’s first five days, it had a $2.5 million win, translating to a win of about $15 million for an entire month. That’s a little more than the $12.8 million generated by Grand Victoria in October, but only about one-half the $30 million plus that Argosy registered in October.

No doubt Belterra is in a "honeymoon" period, with regular customers of the other two boats trying out the new boat and its amenities.

Most likely to be impacted by the new casino is Grand Victoria. It’s in between the other two boats on the Ohio River. Customers driving from either north or south of the casino boat area will come to either Belterra or Argosy before encountering Grand Victoria.

Many casino executives in the area feel the addition of the Belterra Resort will grow the gaming market, not cannibalize existing revenues.

Sponsorship -- Belterra also announced it will sponsor an Indy Racing Series event at nearby Kentucky Speedway next summer. The Belterra Casino Resort Indy 300 will be held on Sunday, Aug. 12. The Indy Northern Light Series event will be televised nationally by ABC-TV.

A square deal

With over $400 million of new casino construction under way in less than one square mile along the Shreveport, La., waterfront, the city’s economy is up and unemployment is way down.

Harrah’s is finishing up a $150 million, 500-room hotel. Next door, Hollywood is finishing its $250 million casino resort, complete with a 400-room hotel.

Hollywood is racing to complete the bricks and mortar portion of its facility, and is also trying to hire 2,200 "cast members" to staff the facility. At the same time, Harrah’s needs several hundred new hires at its new hotel, restaurants and other amenities.

While a lot of personnel move from one casino to another, Hollywood signed a deal with Harrah’s not to raid its employees. That was a condition that let Hollywood build next to Harrah’s.

Many new employees are first timers in the casino industry, but for others, it is an opportunity to move up from a slot floor attendant at one casino to a blackjack dealer at Hollywood.

The Shreveport-Bossier City gaming market has grown into a $60 million-a-month industry. The addition of Hollywood raises the total number of dockside casino boats to five. Hollywood should increase the market, not cannibalize it. Expect at least a $75 million-a-month market by mid-summer, when Hollywood will have several months of operating experience.

Mayor seeks relief

A committee formed by New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial has recommend that Harrah’s-New Orleans casino be given several tax and operating concessions to keep the year-old gambling hall open.

Chief among the concessions is a $40 million cut in the state tax, to $60 million annually. Another break would let the casino operate a hotel and several restaurants. Current law restricts Harrah’s to a single 250-seat dining venue and no hotel rooms.

The study group also suggested riverboat casino taxes be raised to 21.5 percent (from 18.5 percent).

These are but recommendations. Any contract changes need legislative approval. This may be done at a special session before the legislature reconvenes in the spring for its regular session. A major sticking point may be its insistence that New Orleans, which supplies fire, sanitation and police protection, cut its fee to supply these services. Mayor Morial already feels the city is supplying services to the casino at a loss. He’s reluctant to take any deeper cuts.

The mood in Baton Rouge is that Harrah’s will get a break on taxes and eased restrictions on food service and hotel accommodations. But it’s never easy to sell the legislature on anything that seems to benefit only New Orleans.