LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - When it comes to gaming, there’s no doubt about it: The Lake Charles casino market is the belle of the ball, outperforming Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Bossier City and New Orleans by leaps and bounds. We can thank our proximity to Houston for much of that success.
But how much does Calcasieu Parish receive from gaming revenues?
It's the burning question on a lot of folks’ minds. So here are the numbers.
Of the $906 million the casinos made in 2018, they handed $36.4 million over to the various municipalities and entities to divide up. The biggest recipient of those funds? The City of Lake Charles, receiving $11.2 million.
“We have had a lot of positive things happen in this city because of gaming, but it is not the silver bullet response to every issue we have in the City of Lake Charles,” said Mayor Nic Hunter.
Mayor Hunter points out that with a total budget of $150 million, $11 million from gaming can only do so much.
“If you look back over the last five years, we’ve spent close to $1.5 million on asphalt overlays from gaming revenues," Hunter said. "We’ve spent close to $3 million on sidewalks. And there’s multiple other ways that we spend gaming revenues for the City of Lake Charles.”
One way you won’t see that money spent is on salaries. The city adheres to a strict policy of not spending gaming dollars on things like pay raises for police or firemen, or any of its 1,000 employees.
“That’s part of our caution, we choose not to use gaming revenues for salaries,” Hunter said. “We use it for one-time capital expenditures.”
Those capital expenditures include $21 million in sewer and water upgrades as well as equipment for the fire department.
“We buy a new fire truck every year for our fire department and that comes from gaming revenues,” Hunter said. “Those fire trucks are expensive. They’re over a half-million dollars apiece."
The other big recipient of gaming revenues is the Calcaseiu Parish Police Jury, pulling in $11 million a year. Bryan Beam, Parish Administrator, explained some of the projects the police jury is funding.
“For example, Juvenile Justice Services, we’re building a new facility out on East Prien Lake Road that’s halfway through," Beam said. “We actually have a new Family Juvenile Court downtown to be built, coroner’s office, all those we utilize some gaming money.”
The Calcasieu Parish School Board received close to $2.8 million in gaming dollars in 2018, which accounts for 1 percent of its budget. Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus says they’ve put it to good use.
“We’ve spent almost fifty million dollars to build 558 classrooms all around Calcasieu Parish," Bruchhaus said.
Plus, the school district has purchased a lot of real estate for future expansion.
"We’ve bought almost $4.3 million worth of land all across the parish at various school sites where it’s become available,” Bruchhaus said. “For example, we bought Weaver Park next to Barbe High School.”
And just like the city, there is no gaming revenue used for teacher pay. Bruchhaus explained the issue with using casino revenue for salaries.
“The concern with using gaming revenues for teacher salaries is: What if Texas passes gambling and we have to go back to the teachers and say, sorry we don’t have as much gaming revenue? That’s never a pleasant experience,” said Bruchhaus.
The threat from Texas is a potential black cloud hanging over all these groups.
“If Texas were ever to get gaming, and our gaming revenues were to drop substantially, I’m not going to lie, it would hurt the City of Lake Charles,” Hunter said. “Again, 10 to 11 million dollars a year, it helps very much.”
The casinos are already experiencing a drop. Not due to Texas gaming, but our own bump in the road. Local officials say the I-210 construction project has apparently put a bad taste in the mouths of Texas gamblers who don’t want to deal with the traffic headaches.
The first five months of 2019 saw a 4.3 percent decrease in gaming proceeds. However, even with that slight downturn, local municipalities and entities are betting on those dollars and the capital improvements they make possible.