LAKE CHARLES, La.---Lake Charles attracts visitors for its restaurants, events and outdoor adventures, but its luxury casino resorts dominate the city's hospitality and tourism industry.
COVID-19 shuttered these money-making machines for seven weeks, leaving the booming Lake Charles economically filled with uncertainties.
Tye Robinson, a bellhop at Golden Nugget Lake Charles, collected his last tips from Golden nugget guests over a month ago.
"I would get a lot of tips, so I would use my cash on my bills and daily necessities," said Robinson.
Robinson was working at the casino when he learned of the closure due to COVID-19.
“I found out the day before we shut the operations down, and I found out from a news report. It was news to me," said Robinson.
Robinson and his co-workers lived in uncertainty for a week before the casino informed employees. Robinson received one month’s pay and immediately filed for an unemployment claim.
Robinson said, "I'm thankful for unemployment for saving me."
While the closure of the casino industry is impacting the life of Robinson, it is also agitating the flourishing Lake Charles community.
Gaming revenues amassed over $906 million in 2018, distributing over $36 million throughout the Calcasieu Parish community, according to a KPLC-TV special report.
The Lake Charles Hospitality and Tourism Industry ranks No.2 in the economic drivers of the area behind the Petrochemical Industry.
"You know, our culture is something that people travel from around the world to come and see, so we get a lot of this,” said vice president of Business and Workforce Development of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, R.B. Smith. “There's not just casinos, but, of course, our casinos and resorts draw millions of people every year."
The casinos' gaming demand from travelers attracts billions of dollars and over a billion dollars from Houston visitors alone.
However, with the Louisiana-Texas border blocked and the casinos closed, Lake Charles' prosperous hospitality-driven economy is expecting to take a punch.
"Visit Lake Charles is currently predicting an economic loss in excess of $500 million from the tourism economy in 2020,” said CEO of Visit Lake Charles, Kyle Edmiston. “This is a highly fluid prediction as it is completely dependent on when tourism businesses are allowed to reopen and at what levels the crowds and attendance are mandated by executive order."
The empty parking lots of hotels within the area show their occupancy losses with only 18 percent occupancy rate. While, at this time last year, visitors occupied a nearly-full 73 percent.
But all businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry in the area are laboring a substantial loss.
"There is absolutely a ripple effect on all businesses in the travel and tourism sector with those properties remaining closed for approximately seven weeks,” said Edmiston. “It is still too early to predict permanent closures based on the information that is currently available."
The dips in these revenues will also hurt the development and plans of the City of Lake Charles.
"We don't have the money coming into the, to the public off of the taxes and the incomes that we'd have through other events and that sort of thing,” said Smith. “I think we will have some this year; we'll see some dip in what we're able to do financially."
The lack of revenue will not affect essential city projects, such as repairing underground sewer works. However, the overall impact all depends on when and how the economy opens up again.
"Long-term, I think we're going to be all right. Short term again, I think everything's on hold until we see it, when we can open the economy back up," said Smith.
As Lake Charles anxiously waits for the death of the virus and the resurrection of the economy, Robinson is eager to return to work.
"I plan on going back after all of this is over because it is a very good job, and I do enjoy working. I just want this virus to end," said Robinson.