As if the local gaming industry wasn’t struggling already, COVID-19 took a major toll on Baton Rouge casinos. Like many other businesses, local casinos temporarily shut down or have faced capacity restrictions during the pandemic. Once they reopened, revenue was still decreasing month-to-month and year-to-year for October and November, according to Business Report.
It began in 2018, when John Bel Edwards signed a bill approving riverboat casinos to move their gambling spaces on land. It gave them the opportunity to revamp and rebrand their businesses. Some casinos have already opened their latest additions—including new dining options—while others are just getting started on their expansions.
“In order to move the casino to the land, we had to prove we had serious economic development,” says Aaron Mollura, vice president of marketing and food and beverage at Hollywood Casino. “We knew we had to do something new. So it came down to expanding the food and beverage outlets.”
In February 2022, Hollywood Casino plans to open Big Chicken, a fast-casual chicken restaurant and bar created by former LSU and NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. It will sell crispy chicken sandwiches, soul food sides, milkshakes and alcoholic beverages. The Baton Rouge location will be the third Big Chicken in the U.S., with other two locations in Las Vegas and Glendale, California.
“I think a lot of people are really going to like it,” Mollura says about Big Chicken. “It’s something downtown that doesn’t exist. Shaq is a local legend.”
Hollywood Casino also plans to add a sports bar to its offerings. Both the bar and Big Chicken will have outdoor seating with river views. Mollura says the casino has wanted to get rid of the buffet for a while now, and once COVID-19 safety concerns arose about buffets around the country, it reaffirmed their decision to brainstorm different dining options. That space will now be converted into venues for banquet halls and meetings.The renovation process is expected to begin in winter 2021.
Soon, Hollywood Casino “will be a place not just to gamble, but for entertainment, food and a little more broad appeal,” Mollura says.
In November 2020, L’Auberge opened Red Lotus Asian Kitchen, a Vietnamese and Pan-Asian restaurant. It serves soups and salads, fried rice, fried noodles, Asian-inspired entrees, desserts, cocktails and other alcoholic beverages.
Its Bon Temps Buffet is back in action after temporarily turning into a marketplace restaurant this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions. The all-you-can-eat buffet has since reopened with brunch specials, seafood deals and drink specials.
The future of Belle of Baton Rouge’s expansion is a work in progress after a new ownership deal was struck.
In December 2020, casino-entertainment company Casino Queen announced its purchase of the local casino from the world’s largest casino operator, Caesars Entertainment Inc. The business deal is expected to be complete in mid-2021.
Many changes are underway for the Baton Rouge casino scene. With the new land laws and COVID-19 dining restrictions, local gaming facilities are guaranteed to look totally different by 2022.