Are More Casino Boats on the Horizon?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
By Larry Pearson

While the Casino boat building business has been stagnant for nearly a decade, there maybe emerging opportunities for growth. For naval architects, shipyards, interior designers and marine systems and equipment suppliers the mid 1990's was a heady time. Over 100 casino boats were built during this time. If there are more on the way, it will be a smaller market this time around. The market is not so much for new boats for new jurisdictions, since the last casino boat legislation was passed in Indiana in 1993, almost 12 years ago. What is happening is that those boats are now 12 years old and needing replacement. Over the past couple of years some boats have been replaced. With the sailing issue settled, all casino boats can stay permanently docked, although vessels in Indiana and Louisiana still need Coast Guard certification. This has caused the way casino boats are designed to be changed. "A few years ago we were designing mostly Coast Guard certified vessels, but now that has shifted to PMV's or Permanently Moored Vessels," said Matt Pittman, of Lay, Pittman and Associates of Jacksonville, Fla. PMVs are not powered and do not have to be Coast Guard inspected. Indiana and Louisiana are the only states that require their casino boats be certified as Subchapter H vessels. That means sea trials are necessary and they are fully equipped to meet that certification. However, they resemble floating boxes more than boats.

L'Auberge Du Lac The new casino boat for Lake Charles, La. is a perfect example. The new $40 million vessel has all gaming on a single level with 1,600 slots and 100 table games. Single level gaming facilities are preferred by the gaming companies and their patrons, but this new vessel is the first to be specifically designed to both have a single level gaming facility and be able to met Coast Guard regulations. It fits into a cofferdam at the Lake Charles site and will be integrated into the rest of the complex so the gaming patron will not know when he/she is on the water or land. The vessel was built in three sections, two by the main contractor LEEVAC Industries LLC, Jennings, La. and one section by Quality Shipyards at their Houma, La shipyard. The three sections were joined at the LEEVAC yard and major construction completed there. The final outfitting was done in Lake Charles at a portable shipyard LEEVAC established at the Port of Lake Charles.

To comply with Louisiana gaming law that the vessel must resemble a vintage paddle wheeler, the vessel does have a split paddlewheel that operates (another Louisiana gaming law requirement) and a pair of stacks painted black with gold-colored filigree, I guess to comply with the vintage looking boat requirement. Other than that, the boat is a 330-ft. by 225-ft. box with a 13-ft. deep hull named L'Auberge Du Lac. At the present time the casino vessel is in its slip at the Pinnacle Gaming facility. The gaming facility, hotel and entertainment venues at the complex are scheduled to open in April 2005. This will be the 15th and last state regulated riverboat gaming facility to open in Louisiana. There is little reason to discuss the vessel's propulsion, navigation and communications systems since they will be used only on sea trials. The generators, a pair of Caterpillar 3508B units, develop 920 kW each but they will also see limited action. The vessel will use shore power, but the generators can be used in a standby mode if shore power is lost. Even the air conditioning system is located on shore as a part of the hotel mechanical system.

The casino boat is part of a $365 million hotel-casino complex with a 26-story hotel with 700 rooms and an 18-hole golf course owner by Pinnacle Entertainment of Las Vegas, Nevada. As noted by Pittman, the casino boat market has now shifted to primarily (except for Louisiana and Indiana) Permanently Moored Vessels. Many of the original vessels were built as fully operating boats, since they had to be Coast Guard licensed when they opened. The replacement vessels can be built to totally different standards requiring no propulsion equipment, navigation systems or steering gear. While these vessels result in smaller shipyard contracts, they do require some mechanical systems and interior design and joinery is about the same as with Coast Guard certified vessels. At the present time the market is for replacement vessels for many of the original 100 vessels originally built. But rumors remain high that additional states will pass some form of casino boat gaming, probably using permanently moored vessels. The problems facing state today are still the same as those facing the original six states that passed casino boat gaming legislation in the 1990-1993 time period. Briefly stated that is voter demand for increased state services without raising taxes. With this continuing pressure, states that were on the verge of passing riverboat gaming in the 1990's may revisit that issue in the next few years.

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