Harrah’s New Orleans Closer to Securing 30-Year Casino Extension in Big Easy
Posted on: March 31, 2018, 02:00h.
Last updated on: April 9, 2018, 07:49h.
Harrah’s New Orleans received the blessing of the Louisiana House of Representatives on Thursday after the lower chamber voted 78-12 to extend Caesars Entertainment’s lease for the downtown casino.
House Bill 553, introduced by Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras, would renew the operating contract for Harrah’s New Orleans for 30 years, with expiration set for 2054.
In exchange, Caesars has pledged to invest $350 million into upgrading the facility with new restaurants, larger entertainment space, spa, and second hotel tower featuring 350 rooms.
The legislation would slightly increase the casino’s annual tax responsibility to the state. In addition to sharing 18.5 percent of its gross gaming revenue (GGR) or $60 million, whichever is greater, Harrah’s would be on the hook each year for an additional $3.6 million to support early childhood education.
The casino would also be required to continue honoring its $3.6 million annual payment to New Orleans.
HB 553 now goes to the Louisiana Senate for consideration. Should it receive approval there, it will be sent to Governor John Bel Edwards’ (D) desk for his signature.
Though the Harrah’s New Orleans bill received strong support in the Louisiana House, there’s plenty of opposition in the Big Easy. The Advocate, the state’s largest newspaper based in the capital city of Baton Rouge, believes more facts are needed before rushing the extension through.
The media outlet’s editorial team writes this week, “The casino contract for Harrah’s is one of the most important decisions that the state will make for decades. And it is being rushed through the legislative process, even though the current contract is not up for six years.”
“There has been no independent financial assessment of whether the new deal is the best that the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans can do. It’s time to slow down this legislative train,” the editorial concludes.
The newspaper says that while Caesars Entertainment committing $350 million in facility improvements to the property, which the city owns and leases back to the casino operator, is no small number, the investment could be staggered over the three decades.
The Harrah’s New Orleans measure is just one of numerous pieces of legislation facing Louisiana lawmakers. The Senate voted this week to loosen regulations governing video gaming terminals found inside truck stops, and the House recently passed amendments to parimutuel racetrack gambling laws.
However, the most important gambling-related measures are two bills that would allow Louisiana’s 15 riverboat casinos to move onshore so long as they remain within 1,200 feet of their current barges.
If both bills become law, the 30,000-square-foot cap on gaming floor size would be replaced with 2,365 maximum gaming positions.
Casino operators have been calling on state lawmakers to update what they believe to be antiquated gaming laws. The legislature introduced the gaming bills after receiving recommendations from the Louisiana Economic Development and Gaming Task Force.
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