A new, bigger casino boat is scheduled to coast into Little River this morning.
The boat, which will do business under the name Big M Casino, replaces the Southern Elegance casino boat. Another company, SunCruz Casino, will continue to operate out of the northern Horry County community. Under county zoning law, only two boats can operate out of Little River.
Big M Casino company of Fort Myers Beach, Fla., and Southern Cruise Lines of Little River will operate the boat. It will hold 500 people, up from the previous boat’s capacity of 300, said Lloyd Milliken, owner of Southern Cruise Lines.
„Business hasn’t been too good for us with the boat we had, but the new boat is coming in, practically new,“ Milliken said. „It has the new, modern equipment on it so that we can compete with SunCruz.“
The boat left Fort Myers on Monday morning, he said.
Southern Cruise has held a license with South Carolina for over a decade, though the company has done business on boats under various names, Milliken said.
In 2006, the boat Diamond Girl II replaced the Southern Elegance, though the two switched back in November.
Milliken said he will sell the Southern Elegance boat.
Milliken, who also owns Nance’s Creekfront Restaurant in Murrells Inlet, said because of the depth of the Intracoastal Waterway it would not be possible to use a bigger boat than the Big M.
„This is as large as we can go now,“ he said.
Frank Rosado, the general manager of the SunCruz Casino boat, welcomed the competition, saying it will force SunCruz to step up its game.
„I think it’s good for business, period,“ Rosado said. „They have to advertise, which drives people to the ports.“
SunCruz’s boat holds 900 passengers, he said.
The two boats carry about 275,000 passengers each year, according to the companies.