Kenner says goodbye to riverboat Treasure Chest Casino

Kenner says goodbye to riverboat Treasure Chest Casino
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At Kenner's Treasure Chest casino, Elvira Henry saddled up at a Five Times Pay slot machine and began pressing her luck.

Like clockwork, the 87-year-old travels from her home in Gentilly to the gambling boat on Lake Pontchartrain each week to unwind.

“It’s an outlet, you know. A safe outlet. You feel safe in here,” Henry said Thursday, before scoring a win. “Oh, look at that. You’re good luck.”

The Treasure Chest has been part of Henry’s life ever since it opened nearly three decades ago. But her most recent visit to the riverboat casino was her last.

On Saturday, just before midnight, the final bet was placed, marking the end of an era for the ornate, steamboat-style riverboat docked at the north end of Williams Boulevard. The casino’s owner, Nevada-based Boyd Gaming Corp., commemorated the event with a banner-drop and second line.

On Thursday, the Treasure Chest will begin a new chapter with the grand opening of its land-based casino on the opposite side of the levee.

The new location will feature a 48,000-square-foot gambling hall — twice the size of its water-based counterpart — and over 8,000 square feet of convention space, alongside four new restaurants. It cost $100 million to construct.

It’s the latest casino to make the move onto land, after the Louisiana Legislature in 2018 approved a law allowing riverboat casinos to operate onshore. And officials with both Boyd Gaming and the city of Kenner have high hopes that the new-and-improved Treasure Chest will draw larger crowds.

With its days on water winding down, the Treasure Chest last week was already in a state of transition. Half of its gaming space was cordoned off, and Henry’s favorite slot machine — the Triple Double Wild Cherry — was nowhere to be found.

“Usually, that’s the only machine that I play,” she said. “It’s over there, waiting for me.”

Among longtime customers, many of whom have been coming to the Treasure Chest since it opened in 1994, the move itself has generated a mix of excitement and apathy.

“A casino is a casino, whether you’re on a boat or on land. It don’t make a difference. I’ll still be playing,” said Kevin Drake, 68, a Kenner resident who visits around three times a week.

Henry, who gambles at the racetracks in New Orleans on Tuesdays, the Treasure Chest on Thursdays and the Boomtown Casino in Harvey on Saturdays, said, "They're all the same. They'll take your money wherever you go."

Suellen Buckley, 74, said she’s looking forward to the new casino. “My money helped build that casino, you know,” she said.

Still, what makes the Treasure Chest special, Buckley and others said, isn’t its riverboat atmosphere but the staff.

“The people around here are so nice, so adorable, so sweet,” she said.

Among the more popular employees is Lisa Gares, a player development manager who describes herself as the Treasure Chest’s “guest services guru.” She began working at the casino in 1994, distributing quarters to customers playing slots.

“I saw the boat roll in and I’m going to see the boat roll out,” she said.

Wearing a bright pink blazer, Gares is easy to spot on the casino floor, and she can’t get far without being stopped. She knows which slot machines certain guests like, and when the jackpot on those machines get high, she’ll text customers to let them know.

“We’re like a family,” she said. “We know your name. Most casinos don’t.”

Charlotte Durand, a waitress who has also worked at the Treasure Chest since it first opened, said she knows certain customers’ drink orders by heart.

“They don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” she said. “We remember everybody.”

A new look

Unlike the riverboat, which has three floors of gaming, the new land-based casino will be located on one floor. For elderly clientele, that means no more stairs or elevators.

From the outside, the new Treasure Chest looks more like a big-box store than a Las Vegas casino. It's appearance has drawn comparisons to Home Depot and Wal-Mart from some Kenner residents. 

Although smoking inside will still be allowed, the new facility will have higher ceilings and a better ventilation system, said Rodney Miller, the Treasure Chest’s director of marketing.

The new casino will also have expanded dining options, including a steak house, café, and sports bar and grill. The riverboat only offered a deli.

“There’s nowhere in Kenner to get a really good steak,” Gares said. “Well, now you have somewhere.”

Money maker for Kenner

The Treasure Chest provides a significant source of funding for both the city of Kenner and the Kenner Police Department, through passenger fees and a cut of the net gaming revenues. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2023, that amounted to more than $3 million.

In his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, Mayor Michael Glaser said he anticipates the new land-based casino to be “a catalyst for a surge in economic development, increasing sales tax, and increased riverboat fees, upon which Kenner heavily depends.”

The move to land isn’t the first time the Treasure Chest has reinvented itself. When it first opened, the riverboat was required, by law, to set sail. Gares said some customers, fearing the boat would sink, would wait on the dock for it to return. The Legislature later eased up on the sailing requirement.

It's unclear what will come of the boat and the barge its attached to. Miller said Boyd Gaming plans to sell both. 

Durand, who was 22 years old when she first started working at the Treasure Chest, said customers remember when she was pregnant. She’s now 52 with a 21-year-old son.

“I feel like I'm starting a new job,” she said. “I just know this boat like the back of my hand.”