Changes coming for Cajun casinos

Oct 3, 2006 6:53 AM

Louisiana’s riverboat casinos need help and Attorney General Charles Foti thinks the time has come to talk seriously about the industry’s future in his state.

He’s probably right. The over-all atmosphere there has always been a wee bit hostile. I think of it as having a bit of an Illinois flavor to it. It’s not as though the vast majority of Louisiana residents applaud the presence of legalized casinos.

Maybe they would prefer confining them to the back rooms where they flourished for years, providing a good source of business for Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

I recall the late Ted Binion telling me, "There are pretty near as many slot machines tucked away in this or that corner of Louisiana as there are in Las Vegas."

And that was more than 20 years ago.

Foti’s interest in shaking loose some quality thinking at a recent private meeting of lawmakers, regulators and business leaders — the press and public were barred — may have been prompted in part by what’s happening in Mississippi and may soon be happening in Texas.

The Louisiana tax rate is already about twice what it is for Mississippi casinos and those on the Gulf Coast now have the benefit of being able to rebuild on dry land which is, by itself, enough to encourage more capital spending.

It’s unclear whether Foti’s closed session produced anything for industry leaders to applaud, but it did generate two pieces of commentary in the New Orleans Times Picayune that saw the writers stake out positions on opposite sides of this issue that still inspires some people to want to riot in the Bayou State.

One of the Picayne writers — clearly sympathetic to an industry that faces intense competition from revitalized Mississippi resorts with their revised building rules and a lower tax rate — declared, "When it comes to taxes (and the prospect of tax relief) perhaps the best (Louisiana) casinos can hope for is to be left alone . . .

"Few doubt that Mississippi’s coming surge will swamp the competition — if you can call it that in Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans."

It sounds like changes are ahead for Cajun casinos.

New twists in TV poker

The rapidly evolving world of televised poker seems headed for another twist or two, thanks in large part to the imagineering of a Las Vegas company, Booker PROductions headed by longtime poker professional Mori Eskandani.

Booker has completed the filming of a poker pro-am event at the South Coast that will air on ABC soon. The twist, if you will, in this case saw the invited amateurs from the world of show business, as most of them were, start out with more chips than the professionals they were competing against.

Booker is fast-becoming the go-to company for television networks interested in putting together poker shows with a high level of viewer appeal. The shows consistently feature the best-known names, because those at the table are invited rather than competing to win a seat.

All they need is money and a decently high profile.

Everyone knows about ESPN’s partnership with the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour’s relationship with the Travel Channel, but Booker has assembled a varied line-up of poker specials that have been and will continue to be seen on FSN, CBS, NBC, GSN and now ABC.

They include the Poker Superstars Invitational and the National Heads-Up Championship to name just a couple. The high-stakes cash game that is getting ready to film a third season for GSN is notable because players are risking large amounts of their own money.

It all adds up to some 300 hours of original poker programming by the end of next year.

Booker’s next big event will be a production to be known as Poker After Dark that will air on NBC during early morning hours, that is, sometime after midnight beginning early in the new year.