Riverboat casinos?
September 3, 2005 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Riverboat gambling and Katrina?

Can someone explain to me what riverboat gambling is, how the law(s) that allowed it came about, and specifically, it's presence (now wiped out) on the Gulf Coast? Since I've never been to a "riverboat casino", I know so little about them. Are they some sort of creative loophole to get around building casinos inland? ("We don't want gambling in our city. Psst, you can gamble down the road on the river.")

Will these laws will be changed since some of these gambling "barges" were so easily wiped away by Hurricane Katrina?
posted by jca to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total)
My memory is a bit vague on this, but as I recall the issue was one of zoning, locating casinos away from schools, churches and such.

As for the future, I have read a bit of speculation on the issue, but now is just too early for any decisions. My own opinion is that the riverboats will return, perhaps even encouraged, because they bring so much revenue to the locale and the states. Overall, Mississippi is losing $500,000 a day from the loss of the Biloxi casinos; I don't know what portion of that came from the riverboats though.
posted by mischief at 10:42 AM on September 3, 2005

Riverboats were thought to be easier to exculed minors from, easy to keep tabs on people to limit their daily losses (~$200/person in Iowa), and provided a "cultural" context for the gambling. (They used to charge admission, too) Gambling was not allowed until the boat had departed the dock. Most states allowed dockside gambling when they realised how much more money they would make. I think some still require the boat to "cruise" for a certain amount of time each year, but that's becoming the exception. Until this year, Iowa required all boats to cruise for at least an hour, at least 100 times a year. This usually happened from 6-7 AM or so, when almost everyone had left the boat. A few boats still cruise because some of the old people enjoy it, but most would rather cut their marine staff and avoid the hassle.

Today there is no real reason to require "boats" instead of buildings. There are a number of casinos that are inland, but float on a lake of riverwater pumped in to meet the technicality of gaming laws. Some of the riverboat advocates insist that their presence on the banks helps to bring business to the mostly-abandoned downtowns of river cities. My observation has been that the boats bring people downtown, but they do nothing but gamble and leave, ignoring all of the local color and businesses. I think it's a matter of time before the casinos are allowed to build inland, just off an interstate or somewhere easier to get to. This disaster may well start the ball rolling in that direction.
posted by jaysus chris at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2005

According to this page, Mississippi requires individual counties to vote on legalizing riverboats and also requires the boats to be permanently docked, which is different from other states where riverboat gambling is legal.

Louisiana requires that the boats look like old-time riverboats and limits the number of boats to 15, but New Orleans had just received a waiver to allow land-based casinos.

Read the page for more.
posted by lambchop1 at 2:13 PM on September 3, 2005

jca, before 1989 only two states permitted casinos: Nevada and New Jersey. Iowa was seeking to revitalize the Mississippi River region and seized on riverboats for both the obvious benefits of social control and the nostalgic kick that it offered, which allowed it to masquerade as semi-respectable tourism. It was a crazy gamble, but it was wildly successful, and Illinois and other river states followed.

The opening of casinos along with the expansion of state lotteries (both of which were profit centers for state government, often with the monies directed toward education) allowed Indian reservations to get into the gambling game (a Supreme Court ruling said that if a state permitted certain types of gambling, they could not prevent the nominally sovereign reservations inside their territory from legalizing casinos), and this expanded land-based casinos. Now many of the states that authorized boat gambling are looking at exemptions for at least some land-based casinos.

In Illinois, for instance, the "goal" of the casino law was to help the economies of depressed cities -- which is why they're in places like Jolet and Elgin. Now the tony town of Rosemont is going to get one, and Chicago doesn't think it should be left out, so the state will probably (or already has?) change the laws to allow Chicago to have a "barge" casino on the lakefront. The same thing happens elsewhere -- really, there are more towns that want them than not, and the competition can get nasty and even (gasp!) corrupt.

Casinos and NOLA are a natural mix, and the rest of the Gulf Coast likes having them to bring people where the best beaches, uh, aren't. Or something like that.

In any case it's really amazing to see all this nowadays. When I was growing up there were only a handful of state lotteries, and casinos were pretty much limited to Reno and Las Vegas. Then Atlantic City came about and gambling became quasi-acceptable, even though it was opposed by extreme righties on moral grounds and extreme lefties on exploitation grounds. It's just too damn lucrative.

Note that there have been a number of less-successful corollaries. Here in Wisconsin we have no riverboats, but we did try opening up dog tracks, which have almost all failed (with entertaining corruption in the wake of each). That did open up the reservations, though, so now we have Indian tribes buying land near strategic cities (like stateline Beloit) to open casinos there.

As for Katrina ending the fad, I doubt it. They'll all be refloated and reopened by Christmas, to get the snowbird market.
posted by dhartung at 12:33 AM on September 4, 2005

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