It will be at least five more years before Houstonians can enjoy resort-style casino gambling in their backyard. And that’s if everything breaks right for gambling lobbyists in the 2025 Texas Legislative session.
Sports betting in Texas and casino legislation did make some movement in this year’s session, but for now, gaming fans in Space City will continue to pile on buses headed east to Louisiana to partake in slots and table games.
And the buses will continue to roll. As of this week, Grantland Tours and Flix Bus launch up to 17 round trips daily to Lake Charles, Louisiana, 11 of those specifically to one casino: L’Auberge Lake Charles.
“We’re booked on most weekends and holidays,” Chloe Johns, a representative at Party Bus Houston, a company that provides charter buses and limousines that make day-long round trips to Lake Charles, told PlayTexas. She said a private, 14-hour, door-to-door bus ride for 20 would run approximately $2,700.
A round-trip Flix Bus fare can be as low as $26, according to company spokesperson Sean Haft.
Texans continue to spend in Lake Charles
Louisiana casinos in the state’s southwest corner continue to rely on customers coming in from the neighboring state, where casino gambling is still taboo. According to a 2022 Louisiana Gaming Control Board study, the gaming industry in Louisiana brings in $1 billion annually, surpassing oil and gas as the private industry that brings the most money into the state budget. And in Calcasieu Parish, Houstonians are driving that number.
“I guess we have our neighbors in Texas to thank,” Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Johns said at the board’s meeting in October. He noted that the Lake Charles region led the entire state’s other areas in gaming revenue, despite only two active casinos at the time. A third casino, Horseshoe Lake Charles, opened in December, presumably to meet demand.
L’Auberge and Golden Nugget now report more than $30 million in monthly revenue, outpacing casinos in larger cities such as New Orleans, Shreveport and Baton Rouge. All driven by friends from the west. Johns estimated last year that 85% of the Lake Charles casinos’ business came from Texas.
Data compiled by the Lake Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau seems to confirm Johns’ estimate. Texas travelers make up 72% of all visitation to the city, according to the CVB’s 2022 annual report.
When will Texas casinos be built?
Texas legislators have become increasingly aware of their residents fleeing the state for Louisiana’s casinos.
A 2019 report commissioned by the state of Louisiana said “locating a casino in the Houston area or along the Gulf Coast in Texas would significantly hurt the Lake Charles casinos.” The report noted that “while the likelihood of Texas approving casinos is not felt to be high, it remains the greatest threat to the Louisiana casino industry and the associated tax revenues for the state.”
As millions of gambling dollars leave the state monthly, a couple pieces of casino legislation were introduced in the Texas House during this year’s legislative session. In a committee hearing during the session, House Bill 2843 author Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin) said capturing “lost revenue” was one of the many reasons to pass his legislation.
Both pieces failed to get voted out of the House, but backers surely see the Houston-to-Lake Charles data. Had HB 2843 passed, Houston would have received two of the eight proposed Las Vegas-style casinos in Texas. Gaming revenue at casinos would have been taxed at 15%.
Now Texans will have to wait another two years before legislators can bring forth any new proposals. Until then, the buses to and from Louisiana roll on.