Brand New Owner, Same Old Story: Caesars Sells Belle Of Baton Rouge To CQ Holding Company

Posted on December 3, 2020

The Belle of Baton Rouge will soon have new ownership.

Caesars Entertainment, Inc. announced on Tuesday an agreement to sell the riverboat hotel-casino to Illinois-based CQ Holding Company, Inc.

The transaction requires regulatory approval and will not close until mid-2021. The sale price was not made public.

Belle sale latest divestment by Caesars

The deal represents yet another transaction taken by Caesars, one of several that were expected to happen following the company’s recent acquisition by Eldorado Resorts, Inc. It is also one of a few Louisiana properties Caesars has now offloaded.

Twin River Worldwide Holdings purchased Eldorado Shreveport Resort and Casino and two other properties from Caesars in April. Meanwhile, Rubico Acquisition Corp. acquired Harrah’s Louisiana Downs Casino, Racing and Entertainment in Bossier City from Caesars in September.

CQ Holding Company operates both the Casino Queen riverboat casino in East St. Louis, Illinois, and the Casino Queen Marquette in Iowa.

In the announcement, Caesars CEO Tom Reeg thanked Baton Rouge team members for their “hard work and dedication, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wishing them well under the new ownership.

Like all US casinos, the Belle closed in mid-March in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The casino reopened in May at limited capacity and continues to operate while observing numerous health and safety protocols.

Another owner takes the wheel of storied riverboat property

The Belle is a 268-foot paddle steamer with gaming space on three of its four decks. It first opened in 1994 as a prominent feature of the old Catfish Town district.

The Belle’s casino features 800 slot machines and 14 table games, while the hotel has 288 rooms.

Originally called the Catfish Queen during construction, the hotel-casino was renamed the Belle of Baton Rouge upon opening. The name has changed a couple of times since, and ownership has changed multiple times as well.

Jazz Enterprises first proposed the casino with Argosy Gaming operating. Argosy then purchased Jazz Enterprises and became the Belle’s owner. Reflecting the new ownership, in 1999 the name changed to the Argosy Casino Baton Rouge.

In 2004, Penn National Gaming acquired the Belle from Argosy and changed the name back to the Belle of Baton Rouge. Penn and Argosy merged a year later, and soon after, a group that later became Tropicana Entertainment Inc. purchased the property.

Two years ago, Tropicana sold the real estate assets associated with the Belle to Gaming and Leisure Properties (GLP). At the time of that transaction came the announcement that Eldorado would lease the hotel-casino from GLP at $110 million per year. (Eldorado has since acquired Caesars Entertainment and taken the Caesars name.)

GLP will continue to own the Belle’s real estate under the new agreement.

Challenging times, difficult market in Baton Rouge

It is unknown what plans CQ Holdings has in store for the Belle. Whatever their intentions, the new owners will face a challenge to succeed in what has recently become a difficult market.

Baton Rouge’s three riverboat casinos have struggled somewhat in recent years, with this year’s pandemic hardly helping matters. However, even before 2020, the city’s casino market was enduring a multi-year slump.

According to The Advocate, those three riverboat casinos’ collective adjusted gross revenue peaked at $308.8 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. Two years later, that total slipped to $235.6 million, a decline of nearly 24%.

The Belle has consistently been third in revenue behind L’Auberge Baton Rouge and the Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge. In fact, while those two casinos fell by 15.8% and 21.5% in revenue from 2017-2019, the Belle’s totals decreased by 48% to $32.6 million.

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