Operators of a casino boat that moved to Galveston from farther south down the Texas Coast said calmer seas and a bigger market pool made the island an attractive base.
The Jacks or Better Casino boat launched its Galveston operations with a grand opening April 7 after what operators said was a successful soft opening the day before.
“We had a huge soft opening April 6,” said Nicollette Slotkin, marketing manager. “We were at capacity with 150 people in line at 5 p.m. We had to turn away 25 people. And the phones have been ringing non-stop.”
The casino has 55 employees, and 40 of those are new hires from Galveston, General Manager Rocky Herrin said.
“Our goal is to hire 100,” Herrin said.
The Jacks or Better Casino boat — previously known as the Aransas Queen Casino, which sailed out of Aransas Pass — is based at the Galveston Yacht Basin, 715 N. Holiday Drive.
“The sea conditions going 9 miles off of Aransas Pass are about 2 to 3 feet higher than they are in Galveston,” Herrin said. “It was just too rough. We started looking at the weather over the last three years and the seas are better in Galveston.”
Gambling in Texas is illegal, but it’s allowed once ships are in territorial waters, about 12 miles offshore.
Herrin also said the population concentration led to the move.
“There are 4 million people living in Houston and Galveston,” he said. “It’s just a better market for us to succeed.”
When another company considered coming to Galveston but didn’t, that created an opportunity for Jacks or Better.
A Florida-based company whose cruise line stopped sailing from the Port of Palm Beach had announced a desire to operate from Galveston.
In March 2016, Blue Horizon Casino Cruises ceased day cruises, as Florida lawmakers contemplated an expansion of land-based gambling. The same group was asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to build a dock at the Galveston Yacht Basin to tie up its 600-passenger ship. However, executives for the group said gambling had not been discussed in preliminary concept plans.
Herrin’s group had reached an agreement to take the proposed dock from Blue Horizon Casino Cruises, he said.
Jacks or Better is working on stay-and-play packages with area hotels, Herrin said.
“Our goal is stay here permanently,” Herrin said.