Bold Idea #2: Queen Mary Casino

While there are those who regret permanently anchoring the historic cruise ship along the downtown waterfront, there are those who have seen and continue to extol the opportunity to make the Queen Mary a landmark destination. Already, the Queen Mary has been the venue for national and international conferences, as well as weddings, proms and other events. But it languishes in the harbor, waiting for bold visions to activate it to its full potential. The question then becomes how to reposition the Queen Mary to bring more visitors and tourists to this Long Beach attraction. Rock and roll museum, lifestyle shopping center, football stadium; many ideas have been suggested. One of the most interesting and potentially most viable financially is that of creating a world-class gambling casino on the Queen Mary.

At over a thousand feet long and twelve decks high, the hull has the capacity to contain a casino/resort with the capacity and attractiveness of any of those on the Las Vegas Strip. The Queen Mary has a location and view that no other Nevada or California casino could match. Its original deco styling provides a classic, and classy, air. With a little TLC, its central location in the Los Angeles metropolitan region, freeway accessibility, proximity to multiple airports and adjacency to two cruise ship terminals, converting the Queen Mary into a waterfront casino/resort in Long Beach would attract visitors from near and far.

The logistics of creating a waterfront casino are more complicated than revising local zoning regulations, which is not necessarily easy in itself. The permanent berth of the Queen Mary and the forty-five acres of adjacent developable land is made up of reclaimed land. This land is considered tideland area to be held in the public trust of the State. The California Coastal Commission provides strong guidance on zoning regulations and design standards including land use, heights and allowable densities, which has largely dictated the development pattern of the Shoreline and Queensway Bay area. Providing public access, aquatic activities and recreational opportunities are primary goals for any development in the coastal area, which gaming on a historic cruise-liner seems to be fitting.

There are typically two paths in California to provide the legal framework for developing a casino: a Native American-owned and -operated full service casino, or a non-Tribal card club without slot machines. The latter is allowed in several municipalities in Los Angeles County. There have been cases of land-swaps arranged to bring Native American-owned casinos into more central locations, but these have caused considerable controversy in Congress and in the state of California. For example, Richmond, California has been dealing with an ongoing battle over a Tribal casino proposed on its former naval facilities. Though a very different scenario, the Richmond case may be a harbinger for future opportunities like that potentially provided by the Queen Mary.

The other option is to develop a limited service card club, like those in Hawaiian Gardens and Oceanside. Allowing card clubs requires voter approval. Public debate and a referendum provides – at least in theory - thoughtful analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of allowing card clubs. Still, however, the Coastal Commission would likely have a say in the matter regardless of the will of the voters. The big difference between card clubs and full casinos is the lack of slot machines, but they still do generate a lot of business, however, as is evident with the Hustler Casino and Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens. One could imagine a scenario whereby a card-club can be augmented by the token gambling machines of Looff’s (of original Pike fame, now on Long Beach Boulevard) while providing a unique bit of Long Beach character to a Queen Mary casino.

Creating an international attraction that brings more people to the city without harming existing attractions could promote further economic development in the waterfront and downtown area. The fiscal benefit to the city could be significant, including hotel bed tax, sales tax and potential revenue-sharing with the casino. Hawaiian Gardens Casino contributes over nine million dollars annually to the city coffers, making up nearly a third of their city’s budget.

If done properly, a project of this scale at this location could become an international resort that not only includes a hotel and casino but quality retail, restaurants, convention facilities, performance venues and entertainment attractions. The district would be connected to the downtown via the Passport Shuttle and Aquataxi while being augmented by a suspended gondola service, spanning the banks of the Los Angeles River. Imagine the art deco splendor of the Queen Mary, truly Long Beach’s jewel in the harbor, transformed into a first-class international destination. It would draw visitors from all over the world, contribute significant revenue to the city, and provide the excitement of a casino resort with the romantic image of the downtown waterfront.

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