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Companies scramble for last casino license

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana gambling regulators received four applications yesterday for the state’s 15th and final riverboat casino license, with three companies wanting to locate in the Texas-oriented market of Lake Charles and the fourth proposing a boat near New Orleans.

The applicants include major operator Penn National Gaming Inc., which is proposing a second casino in the New Orleans suburb of Harvey, and Creative Casinos LLC, owned by former Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. chairman Daniel R. Lee, who is targeting Lake Charles.

The others are St. Gabriel Downs LLC, fully owned by Louisiana businessman William E. Trotter II, and Tomorrows Investors, both of which also want a Lake Charles casino.

Of the three applications for a Lake Charles casino, Lee’s company and St. Gabriel Downs propose locating on land owned by the Port of Lake Charles. Tomorrows Investors wants to berth on a Calcasieu River location.

Penn National currently owns the Hollywood Casino in Baton Rouge. St. Gabriel Downs tried unsuccessfully for a horse racing track and slot machine casino in Iberville Parish in 2008.

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board put the license up for applicants after it was returned to the state in April by Pinnacle. Pinnacle had planned to use the license for its second casino-resort complex in Lake Charles — but canceled the plan.

The open license is the only one remaining under state law, which limits the number of riverboat casinos to 15.

There are currently 13 riverboat casinos operating in Louisiana: five in Shreveport-Bossier City, three in Lake Charles, two in the New Orleans area, two in Baton Rouge and one near Morgan City. Pinnacle is developing a 14th project in Baton Rouge.

According to a summary of the applications released late Thursday by the casino board:

— St. Gabriel Downs — with the established brand name of Hard Rock Casino & Hotel — is proposing a $348.8 million project.

— Lee’s company is proposing to spend $400 million on a project named Mojito Pointe.

— Tomorrows Investors has not yet disclosed its projected cost or its official name.

— Penn National would locate its yet-to-be-named casino on the Harvey Canal in competition with Pinnacle’s Boomtown Belle Casino. Since riverboat gambling was approved in the early 1990s, four riverboat casinos that started in New Orleans later located to other parts of the state. Boomtown and Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Treasure Chest in Kenner compete with Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.’s downtown land casino in New Orleans, along with a slot casino at the Fair Grounds race track.

Penn National has not disclosed a projected price for its project.

In addition to three boats in Lake Charles, that market includes Boyd’s Delta Downs track casino at Vinton and a popular Indian reservation casino in Kinder. Lake Charles is home to Pinnacle’s L’Auberge du Lac resort, which typically pulls in more money from gamblers than any of the state’s other 12 riverboats. Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. also has two riverboats in Lake Charles.

The gambling board has not set a time schedule to consider the applications.


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