New Orleans casino ‘a mistake’

Dec 12, 2000 9:49 AM

Ah! There’s such beautiful clarity to hindsight.

While Louisiana lawmakers review just what action they will take relative to keeping the New Orleans casino alive, Phil Satre, chairman and CEO of Harrah’s, admits the seven-year debacle was a mistake.

"Looking back on it now," he was quoted as saying in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "saying no would have been in our best interests. There is no question, from today, we should have said no."

But the picture looked so profitable seven years ago when Harrah’s beat out the likes of Caesars World (Terry Lanni is still thanking his lucky stars for that one) by partnering with casino developer Christopher Hemmeter, who at the time (before declaring bankruptcy) seemed to have a lot of political clout.

After saying yes, Harrah’s agreed to renovate the Municipal Auditorium for a temporary casino, which turned out to be a failure.

And that’s just what the permanent land-based Harrah’s New Orleans Casino will end up as if the state doesn’t make a substantial reduction in the $100 million annual tax rate. In fact, Satre said Harrah’s will pull the plug on the property if no relief is forthcoming by March 31.

On that score, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster may be relenting a bit. For months, he kept to his position that he would not favor any reduction in the tax rate he negotiated. Last week, however, he ask the legislative auditor to take a peek at the casino’s books to see if the loss claims were justified. The auditor said he hoped to have some information for the governor and the Legislature in two weeks.

Greektown’s impact

Business at the recently opened Greektown Casino in Detroit, Mich., reportedly is booming. But that’s taking its toll on the competition.

According to a report by the Michigan Gaming Control Board, MGM Grand Casino, the first gaming property to be opened on the Michigan side of the Detroit River, saw its revenues decline by 15 percent in November. Greektown opened Nov. 10.

Revenues at MGM Grand Casino reportedly were $28.9 million in November, compared to $34.1 million in October.

Also impacted (but to a lesser extent) were the numbers at MotorCity Casino, operated and partly owned by Mandalay Resort Group (MBG). They reported revenue of $26.7 million, down from October’s $29 million.

There was no word from the Windsor Casino, just across the river from its three Detroit counterparts.

Foxwoods’ bus milestone

Foxwoods Resort Casino greeted its one millionth bus passenger last week and celebrated the event with a private party for the lucky guest.

Martha Brier of West Roxbury, Mass., was the lucky visitor. An occasional visitor, she had traveled to the popular casino resort with a group of 21 other passengers. She said she enjoyed visiting the property not so much to gamble but to watch others. When she does play, she said, it was in the smoke-free Slots Down Under casino.

Of the 15 million visitors at Foxwoods each year, officials said, more than one million arrive by bus.

Brier’s prize package included a weekend getaway for two, a pair of tickets to any Foxwoods’ show, dinner for two at any of its restaurants, and an assortment of promotional items.

Casino converted

What was once the Players Lake Charles Casino in Louisiana has been converted to a Harrah’s property. Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (HET) bought Players International Inc. for $425 million.

At the Lake Charles riverboat, Harrah’s spent $41 million on capital improvements and has committed another $11 million toward renovating the hotel.

The new Harrah’s-brand property brings to 21 casinos in 17 U.S. markets for HET, according to Chairman and CEO Phil Satre.

National in Chapter ll

National Airlines, the only Las Vegas airline serving the gaming community, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week. The company will take the next 60 days to reorganize its financial structure.

The airline cited skyrocketing fuel charges as the principal cause of the shortfall. Actually, the company set a record of sorts by becoming profitable within 11 months of its founding. The profitable period continued until the fall when the sharp hike in fuel prices caused problems.

Recently, the airline was responsible for 5.8% of the total arriving/departing passengers noted at McCarran International Airport.

Fitzgeralds changing hands

Fitzgeralds Gaming Corp., whose gaming properties in Las Vegas, Black Hawk, Colo., and Tunica, Miss., have been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of high-interest bond debt, has agreed to be acquired by Don Barden’s privately held Majestic Investor LLC.

Majestic owns and operates a riverboat casino in Gary, Ind.

Sale price was listed as $149 million in cash.

Both parties indicate the sale will take about one year to be completed.