(This article appeared in the July 1997 On Parade, published by the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Vistitors Bureau.)

New Orleans Casinos
Beating the Odds

by Ray Knight

New Orleans casinos are holding their own against Gulf Coast rivals, despite a persistent buzz about what some call a "game drain" from Louisiana to Mississippi. "What many people don't realize is that when you average the revenues per casino, New Orleans casinos are beating the pants off the Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos," says Joe Giardina, Director of Marketing at Bally's in New Orleans. 

Comparison of monthly gaming revenue reports tends to support his claim. In March, for example, the four casinos in New Orleans grossed $29.6 million for an average of $7.4 million each. The 11 Gulf Coast casinos took in $65.8 million, an average of $6.0 million per casino.  New Orleans averaged 23% more per casino than the Gulf Coast.   "Soon we will only have three casinos in the market, and the average revenues should be even higher," says Giardina, referring to the impending departure of the Hilton Flamingo riverboat to Shreveport. 

The performance of the New Orleans casinos is even more remarkable when the disadvantages of limited space and the "cruise handicap" of the riverboats are considered. The riverboats don't have the amenity magnets  -- hotels, golf courses, high-end restaurants, children's facilities, etc. -- that help draw players to the Gulf Coast casinos. Gaming capacity on the boats is considerably less than that of the dockside casinos in Mississippi. The requirement for the riverboats to leave the docks is another big penalty to overcome. "When we cruise, about half our people run off the boat," Giardina says. 

To help surmount these obstacles, Giardina launched an aggressive marketing campaign to generate bus tour traffic to New Orleans and Bally's. Bally's group sales staff has been successful in luring an average 140 bus tours a month. They come from South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Mexico. "We even have some coming from Gulfport and Biloxi," he notes. 

A big part of the appeal, he believes, is New Orleans itself. "They're coming here not just strictly for the gaming, but they're coming to enjoy the treasures of New Orleans." He views the bus tour business as a growing niche adding incremental revenues to the New Orleans tourism economy. "This is generating new tourist business for New Orleans," he says, adding that Bally's is developing alliances with local hotels as part of the tour strategy. 

In spite of some bad press and long odds, Giardina maintains that the New Orleans gaming industry is hale and hearty. "When you look at the actual health of the gaming industry, per casino, the casinos here are doing quite well."