No Dice: Harrah’s New Orleans Casino Extension Scrapped

Posted on: May 21, 2018, 11:00h. 

Last updated on: May 21, 2018, 09:47h.

Harrah’s New Orleans and parent company Caesars Entertainment will need to wait at least another year before seeing their casino contract with the city extended by the Louisiana State Legislature.

Harrah's New Orleans contract agreement
Louisiana House Speaker Taylor Barras (left) and Senate President John Alario were at odds over the best bet for the state in extending its contract with Harrah’s New Orleans. (Image: Bill Feig/The Advocate)

House Bill 553 sought to extend the state and city’s casino agreement with Harrah’s for 30 years. But lawmakers in the state House and Senate disagreed on the measure’s specifics.

House members agreed to maintain the $60 million annual payment Harrah’s has been making to the government in exchange for the company investing in a $350 million expansion. The Senate, however, increased the fee to $80 million before approving the legislation and sending it back to the lower chamber.

House Speaker Taylor Barras (R) rejected the increase, and the bill went to a special conference committee made up of three senators and three representatives. After hours of negotiations, no common ground was reached and the measure was scrapped.

“It’s too late, and it’s too complicated,” Senate President John Alario (R) told The Advocate. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Our problem is that we don’t have anything to compare it to. We don’t know if we’re being fair to the state.”

The Louisiana Legislature’s 2018 regular session concluded Friday. It’s holding a special session this week to address a budget shortfall.

Harrah’s Threatens Project

Caesars Entertainment’s operating permit in the Big Easy doesn’t expire until 2024, but lobbyists for the company wanted to secure a 30-year extension before investing $350 million to build a second hotel tower with 340 rooms, spa, and nightclub.

“This means that the City of New Orleans and state of Louisiana lose 600 construction jobs, 900 permanent jobs, and $28 million in incremental tax revenues and payments through 2024,” Harrah’s New Orleans General Manager Don Real said in a statement.

“These much needed jobs and revenues were denied despite the state’s current economic and fiscal conditions,” Real continued. He added that Caesars’ $350 million project proposal was a one-time offer, and likely won’t be presented again during future negotiations.

Rushed Extension, Riverboat Law Unsigned

Critics to HB 553 said the 30-year extension was being too quickly moved through the legislature as a result of successful lobbying on behalf of Caesars.

“The deal has been a bit rushed,” Sen. Norby Chabert (R-Houma) opined last week. “I think we can get a deal done. I just don’t think we have to get it done today.”

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) said prior to the negotiations being shelved that he tends to favor “anything that would invest $350 million in our state.”

Edwards announced last week that he had signed 40 bills sent to his desk during the 2018 regular session. But one of them that did not receive his John Hancock was Senate Bill 316.

The legislation was sent to the governor on May 18, and is expected to be signed in the coming days or weeks by Edwards. SB 316 will change Louisiana’s casino laws and permit the state’s riverboat casinos to finally come ashore.

With Edwards’ signature, riverboats would be permitted to operate gambling on land so long as they stay within 1,200 feet of their licensed births. The 30,000-square-foot casino floor cap would also be replaced in favor of limiting operations to 2,365 gambling positions.