Bayou Beauty

Business is booming at this southwest Louisiana hot spot

By: Christopher Batin

On a recent visit to Southwest Louisiana’s L’Auberge du Lac Resort and Casino, the games of chance began before I arrived. Flash floods and severe lightning storms pummeled the area, followed by blinding rain that closed I-10. Flights were cancelled to Lake Charles. Once I arrived in one piece, I expected a ghost-town-like atmosphere in the gaming halls.

I underestimated the power of this casino.

I slugged out the 2½-hour drive from Houston to the resort and was surprised to see a waiting line at check-in. The casino and restaurants were bustling. And after spending five days on the property, I discovered why. The resort may be the most happening place in Southwest Louisiana.

Over the past year, L’Auberge celebrated its first birthday, survived a hurricane and the death of two competing casinos to become the top-grossing riverboat casino in Louisiana. The reason is obvious. Style.

Southwest Louisiana is the Gentleman’s Country Club of Gaming and Adventure. I walked on fresh grass, listened to frogs in the evening and delighted in watching egrets fly to roosting areas against a brilliant orange sunset. Moments later, I was enjoying service, gaming options and entertainment that match Vegas standards.

Louisiana is coming of age in the casino industry. State Gaming Commission numbers show Lake Charles casinos including L’Auberge, Isle of Capri and Delta Downs took in $55.1 million in May, compared with $49.5 million in May 2005. L’Auberge is the top earner, with nearly $25 million in winnings in May 2006.

Destroyed or damaged casino properties in Mississippi and Louisiana many with outdated, old-style gambling-hall themes are being replaced with modern, new-style gaming resorts like L’Auberge that have spurred interest among people looking for something new.

According to L’Auberge spokesperson Kerry Andersen, the resort caters to all types of customers.

“We turn away several thousand people each week,” said Anderson. “Our weekend events are 100 percent filled because L’Auberge offers more than just gambling. Promotions include cooking demos, custom belt bucklers and cigar rollers, with lots of hands-on opportunities.”

A Wide Range of Amenities

Pinnacle Entertainment invested over $400 million in the 26-story, 750-room property that sits on 26 acres on the edge of Lake Charles about 200 miles from New Orleans. The L’Auberge is one of the world’s largest single-level riverboats, with a 30,000-square-foot gaming area, including 60 table games and 1,600 slot machines.

Restaurants here offer big-name chefs and great food. The 370-seat Beaucoup Buffet serves seafood to traditional Cajun/Creole cuisine and more. At Asia Restaurant, try the Vietnamese Noodle Soup. For the romantic or for a business meeting, there’s the Snake River Grill.

Another notable feature is the Lazy River, a pool and watersport complex. A slow, but steady current carries swimmers on floats and tubes in a meandering course that’s popular with guests of all ages. Every Thursday night, the Lazy River area turns into a weekly event called “Party by the Pool” where anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people congregate in the 23,500-square-foot event area. There they enjoy big-name entertainment like Lionel Richie and K.C. and the Sunshine Band.

The nearby Contraband Bayou Golf Club offers a 7,000-yard, par 71 championship golf course that combines the best of botanical gardens and golf.

Charter buses run directly from Houston to the casino and return throughout the day.

According to Andersen: “People will get up in the morning and golf all day or hunt and fish, and return for a nap or meal before spending the evening enjoying entertainment or the gaming tables.”

The L’Auberge du Lac offers a chance to relax, unwind and enjoy the true meaning of southern comfort.