In a split decision, the Louisiana Court of Appeal, Third Circuit, determined that a floating casino permanently moored to to a dock is not a vessel. The M/V Crown was originally placed into service as a functioning gambling boat that would cruise the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles. Thereafter, the Louisiana legislature amended gambling laws to prohibit gambling boats from conducting cruises or excursions. In accordance with law, the M/V Crown was docked, and it stopped conducting cruises. Since then, the vessel has been held to the dock by four steel cables. Utilities, such as electricity and phone service, were attached to the M/V Crown from land-based sources. Further, the M/V Crown has not been licensed by the Coast Guard since the Louisiana legislature’s gambling law amendments took effect. Still, though, the M/V Crown has all of the equipment necessary for maritime navigation, making navigation a theoretical possibility.
The question of whether a gambling boat is a vessel is an offshoot of the Supreme Court’s decision in Stewart v. Dutra Constr. Co., 543 U.S. 481 (2005). There, the Court defined the term “vessel in navigation.” The Court stated: “[T]he ‘in navigation’ requirement is an element of the vessel status of a watercraft. It is relevant to whether the craft is ‘used, or capable of being used’ for maritime transportation. A ship long lodged in a drydock or shipyard can again by put to sea, no less than one permanently moored to shore or the ocean floor can be cut loose and made to sail. The question remains in all cases whether the watercraft’s use ‘as a means of transportation on water’ is a practical possibility or merely a theoretical one.”
Here, Louisiana’s Third Circuit determined that the M/V Crown was not a vessel for purposes of admiralty jurisdiction. In fact, the United States Fifth Circuit previously determined that the same exact gambling boat, the M/V Crown, was not a vessel. De La Rosa v. St. Charles Gaming Co., 474 F.3d 185 (5th Cir. 2006). Further, other courts, both state and federal, have held that Louisiana’s permanently moored casinos are not vessels in navigation. The Third Circuit chose to follow the line of cases holding that similar casinos fall outside the definition of a “vessel in navigation.”
(Note: I originally published this post on Navigable Waters: A Maritime, Longshore and Defense Base Act Blog.)