Will the Belle of Baton Rouge turn into the Belle of the ball?
Last month, Louisiana’s very first casino officially became the latest property sold by Caesars Entertainment with the finalization of its sale to CQ Holding Company. The sale price remained undisclosed for this deal initiated almost two years ago.
And with the sale now completed, big plans for the property are in the works, including a move ashore. A press release by Terry Downey, the president and CEO of CQ Holding, said the purchase gives the company “an exciting opportunity to enhance the gaming and other amenities in the Baton Rouge community.”
He added in the statement:
“With the launch of sports betting and exciting renovations planned for Belle of Baton Rouge and our other newly acquired property, Hollywood Casino, we look forward to elevating the city’s allure as a gambling destination.”
Louisiana has about 15 riverboat casinos. And so, this is not so much of a farewell to a riverboat casino as it is a welcomed transition into a bigger and newer venue in Louisiana’s casino landscape.
It’s not a bad marketing strategy to separate yourself from the rest and offer up a different experience. Let’s take a look at the planned updates for the Belle of Baton Rouge.
Belle to get the Cinderella treatment
Downey spoke of some plans to turn around the fortunes of the Belle of Baton Rouge, which has lagged behind those of its capital city rivals. Belle’s March revenues came in substantially under those of Hollywood and L’Auberge and did so again in April.
That’s pretty much how things were looking in December 2020 at the time the sale was initiated — and even before, as well. From 2017 to 2019, Belle’s total revenues fell by -48%.
Regarding CQ Holding’s plans for a Belle comeback: For starters, pending approval by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, the company foresees moving the Belle of Baton Rouge inland.
A 2018 Louisiana law allows riverboats to move ashore within 1,200 feet of their assigned berths. Then an estimated $25 million-plus makeover would result in a boutique gaming space inside Belle’s atrium. That space would feature:
- 350 slot machines
- A dozen table games
- Retail sportsbook lounge
- New coffee shop
- New oyster bar and café
Also, the property’s 288-room hotel will get a glow-up of its own after not hosting guests since the pandemic stopped the world in 2020.
“Everything old will become new,” according to Downey.
He expects the project for the property’s next chapter will take 11 to 15 months after Board approval.
Hooray for Hollywood, too
The Belle budget comes in at close to a third of the amount CQ Holding Company plans to put into their Hollywood Casino, which the company purchased for $28.2 million.
First up: a name change, as Hollywood will become Casino Rouge. Casino Rouge will feature “Big Chicken,” a 250-seat restaurant operating as part of the chain backed by LSU grad and NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.
Downey expects the $70 million Hollywood project’s completion to happen in late spring of 2023. The groundbreaking ceremony occurred in the summer of 2021, but completion has taken longer than initially expected.
Mostly because finishing the pilings for the dockside property stalled, according to Downey. The height of the river and proximity to the levee kept the casino’s completion at bay for a while. A wait for the river to come down was on.
Planned and possible changes for Hollywood include:
- Converting the valet parking lot into an indoor area
- Adding 33,000 square feet to the atrium to make up for the loss of parking lot space
- State-of-the-art DraftKings sportsbook
- Adding a hotel, possibly (more likely after the expansion)
The road to the possible land-based Belle of Baton Rouge stretches back almost 30 years. The property opened in 1994, three years after the state legalized riverboat casinos in 1991.
Casino operators jumped at the chance to do business in the historic warehouse district of Catfish Town, which wasn’t faring too well as a festival marketplace.
The riverboat property has gone by multiple names, starting its casino life as the Catfish Queen during construction under owner Jazz Enterprises. The sequential list of former owners and names goes like this:
- Argosy Gaming as Argosy Casino Baton Rouge (1999)
- Penn National Gaming as Belle of Baton Rouge (2004)
- Tropicana Entertainment Inc.
Tropicana sold the real estate assets to Gaming and Leisure Properties (GLP). Then Eldorado leased the hotel-casino from Gaming and Leisure Properties. Eldorado purchased Caesars and took on its name, leading to Belle’s purchase by CQ. GLP will continue to own the real estate.
The property’s early years even saw some criminal drama, with failed extortion demands for part-ownership and subsequent racketeering convictions for those involved.
Currently, the Belle of Baton Rouge resides at 103 France Street, south of the Hollywood Casino and near Louisiana State University. Hollywood Casino’s address is 1717 River Road. It’s docked along the Mississippi River and within walking distance of the state Capitol.
Illinois-based CQ Holding Company owns and manages four casinos in three states as well as two sports betting partnerships. In addition to the newly acquired Belle of Baton Rouge and Hollywood Casino, CQ Holding operates the Casino Queen Marquette in Marquette, Iowa, and DraftKings at Casino Queen in East St. Louis, Illinois.
The company’s website cites its core values as collaboration, community, integrity, and accountability.