Harrah's New Orleans expansion hits major setback

May 21, 2018 9:46 AM

The Louisiana Legislature adjourned its regular session late Friday without reaching a deal on a proposed extension of the Harrah’s New Orleans casino gambling license. The bill died in a conference committee thus dealing a major setback to plans for a new $350 million hotel project floated by owner Caesars Entertainment.

The company is seeking a no-bid, 30-year extension of its right to operate the only land casino in New Orleans. Harrah’s is seeking the extension six years before the current contract expires in 2024.

Caesars had launched a major lobbying effort to convince lawmakers that the extension could create a unique economic development opportunity. Opponents questioned whether negotiating a deal with six years left on Harrah’s current permit and without putting the license up for a bid was the optimum deal for the city and state.

It’s too late, and it’s too complicated,” Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said in an interview Friday night. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Our problem is that we don’t have anything to compare it (the deal) to. We don’t know if we’re being fair to the state.”

Caesars may try again in 2019, but that will be an election year.

The company used a phalanx of lobbyists, 21 in all, to promote the benefits of the planned investment, which they said would create 600 construction jobs, 500 permanent jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue for the city.

Industry observers note the proposed legislation may have been thwarted because many had been unaware that the Caesars’ controlled Real Estates Investment Trust, Vici Properties, has an option to acquire Harrah’s New Orleans Casino as a real estate investment. The revelation apparently raised new questions about whether the state is getting the best deal possible.