BOSSIER CITY, La. -- DiamondJacks Casino & Hotel announced Friday it is closing permanently -- the first Louisiana casino to fall victim to the COVID-19 financial impact.
A news release issued at 1 p.m. states the closure is "due to business circumstances caused by the unexpected impact of the coronavirus."
All casino employees -- there were 413 in 2018 -- have been notified and are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits, effectively immediately. They will receive their final paycheck, which will include unused paid time off, on May 22.
“In light of the sudden, unforeseeable market conditions that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, the difficult decision has been made to close the casino,” said Diana Thornton, DiamondJacks finance vice president. “We have worked diligently to be a valued member of the Shreveport-Bossier City business community. We are saddened for the loss of a longtime business here in Louisiana.”
The announcement seemed to catch local and state government officials by surprise. Officials with Bossier City and the Chamber of Commerce didn't have enough information about the closure to comment on the impact. Lawmakers quizzed in Baton Rouge also were caught off-guard.
Ronnie Jones, Louisiana Gaming Board of Control chairman, said once the coronavirus crisis passes, the board will have to determine what the casino's exit means for gaming around the state -- and the status of the company's license. Louisiana has a limit of 15 riverboat licenses.
"We'll have to engage the ownership in conversation as to what their plans are. ... They'll have to share that with the board.. The board would be very concerned about a property just shutting its doors with not having a plan to move forward," Jones said.
DiamondJacks typically has been the lowest performing riverboat casino in the Shreveport-Bossier City market. It's future among the six local casinos has been in question for years.
In 2018, the Louisiana Legislature changed the state's casino law to allow riverboats to build on land and do away with square-foot gaming space restrictions. At the same time, talk was ongoing around the state about the possibility of DiamondJacks looking to move and build a new casino in South Louisiana.
But the owners, Los Angeles-based Peninsula Pacific, in February 2018 announced a $100 upgrade at with DiamondJacks' casino and hotel in Bossier City. Peninsula Pacific acquired DiamondJacks' license in 2015.
Then in April 2019 a study prepared by Spectrum Gaming Group recommended that two Bossier City casinos should move because of a financial strain on the market from bigger tribal casinos in Oklahoma. The study suggested Boomtown should move to the New Orleans area and DiamondJacks to northeast Louisiana.
DiamondJacks is now working on a closure plan, which has included contacting employees, vendors, and other key stakeholders. The team will also decide what to do with the casino’s physical assets. The property will be maintained as closure is completed, though there are no plans for new ownership or additional investments to remain open.
“Even though continuing to operate is not viable from a business standpoint, we have certainly enjoyed being a part of the community and appreciate the loyalty of both guests and team members,” said Thornton. “We are thankful for the support everyone has provided us and will do what we can to ensure those impacted transition to new career opportunities.”
DiamondJacks had a payroll of $13.5 million in 2017-2018, according to the most recent annual report by the Louisiana Gaming Board of Control.
It took in just over $1.7 million in March, compared to $3.3 million in February. In March 2019, gamblers lost $4.2 million. Overall in 2017-2018, DiamondJacks' revenue totaled just over $24 million. Of that, $8 million was paid in state franchise taxes, $1.7 million in local fees and almost $1.3 million in property taxes.
DiamondJacks is closing a few days shy of its 26th anniversary. It opened its doors on May 20, 1994.
The casino and hotel had 30,000 square feet of gaming space, with more than 800 slots and a variety of table games. Other amenities include 400 hotel rooms, four restaurants, 22,000 square feet of meeting space and a 1,200-seat entertainment venue. It also had a 32-space RV park onsite.