NEW ORLEANS-In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, riverboats were torn from moorings in Biloxi and Gulfport, MS and land casinos destroyed. In all, 13 casinos were ravaged by the storms, with only a handful having re-opened to date.

As a result, much of the gaming business is headed to the west, specifically New Orleans and Lake Charles, LA. The cities did lose riverboat casinos, but managed to keep their gaming system fairly intact. “Much of the gaming in Louisiana was on the western side, Shreveport and Lake Charles, even before Katrina,” says Paul West, a partner with McGlinchey Stafford PLLC’s Baton Rouge, LA office, which works with the gaming industry.

The Biloxi-Gulfport region is slowly reopening, but New Orleans has picked up a good chunk of business from the slow rebuilding process. West says the city’s two riverboats–Pinnacle Entertainment Inc.’s Boomtown Casino New Orleans and Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Treasure Chest Casino–are doing well as is Harrah’s land casino, which opened during Mardi Gras.

“The market shrunk dramatically in that area of the country,” West says about the Mississippi gaming stake. But, he adds, it’s a fact that demand goes elsewhere when there’s less of a supply.

West tells that another driver boosting the increased gaming activity in New Orleans is the influx of construction workers into the area. “A lot of these folks are being paid in cash,” he says. “They had a lot of spending money and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in New Orleans except go to casinos.”

West cautions demand in New Orleans and a supply shortfall from Biloxi-Gulfport casinos won’t automatically lead to more real estate development in the Big Easy. Once things stabilize a little more in New Orleans, he says its market will be saturated with gaming opportunities. He also says Shreveport isn’t the most likely candidate to hit the jackpot from the ravaged Gulf Coast. “If this shifts in any direction, it would shift to Lake Charles,” West says, yet confidently adding “Biloxi will definitely come back and it will be a viable destination resort.”

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