Harrah’s solutions? Sublime to substantial

Dec 18, 2000 8:26 PM

Activity in front of and behind the scenes is approaching a frantic pace as the city, the state and business organizations try to hammer out a deal to keep the huge casino at the end of Canal Street open.

Something significant must change for Harrah’s-New Orleans to keep its 100,000 square-foot casino open after April 1. On that date, Harrah’s Entertainment will stop guaranteeing gaming tax payments to the state of approximately $8.3 million a month.

There’s been no lack of ideas to make it work, from the silly to the creative. From the silly side of the ledger comes a proposal from the city of New Orleans to sell the land under the casino to Harrah’s for $600 million. As owners of the land, Harrah’s would save the $1 million a year it pays to the city to lease the land. Harrah’s found this proposal less than viable and rejected it out of hand. A more creative proposal was for Harrah’s to make a part of its tax payments in company stock. No direct comment has been made on this idea, but it may work as part of a final deal.

Harrah’s wants its tax bill cut in half the first year, to $50 million. In addition, Harrah’s knows it can’t survive with gaming revenue alone. It badly needs a hotel and several restaurants to maximize revenue. In a town where food is almost a religion, them’s fightin’ words. The restaurant association has been against Harrah’s opening restaurants as a part of its entertainment offering from the get-go, but its wishes may lose out in the fight to save the casino and its 2,500 jobs.

Any changes in the operating contract between the state and Harrah’s has to be approved by the legislature. It goes into regular session in March, less than a month before Harrah’s says it will shut down unless a new contract is approved.

Bet on a special session being called before the regular session to iron out the Harrah’s mess. Even if a tax cut deal is worked out and accepted by Gov. Mike Foster, don’t expect the measure to have an easy time

Viva Gaming sells casino boat

Viva Gaming, which opened an offshore casino boat last September in Corpus Christi, has sold the venture to an undisclosed buyer for $6.3 million in cash and other assets.

Day to day operations of the vessel, the Texas Treasure, won’t be affected by the sale and management changes. Viva has indicated an interest in developing a project in Mexico.

Déjà vu all over again

A casino boat I thought might be put out of its misery and cut up for scrap is being resurrected to serve another day in Tunica County, Miss.

The Cotton Club was converted from a ferryboat during those crazy early years of riverboat gaming in the mid-1990s, when anything that floated was being rushed into casino service. The boat served Greenville, Miss., for several years before being literally swapped out to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the larger casino barge there. Renamed the Jubilation, the vessel was almost doomed from the start when management decided on a "gangster" theme. It closed in 1997, and I thought I had heard the last of this vessel.

But, no. The other day, it turned up at the old Bally slip at Mhoon Landing in Tunica. Historians of riverboat gaming will remember that Mhoon Landing was the first gaming site in Tunica. At its peak in 1994, four casino boats were moored there: Splash, Lady Luck, Bally and President. All either closed or sailed away to venues closer to Memphis.

Now, the original owners of Splash think they can make the Mhoon Landing location work again with one of the oldest and cramped casino boats ever built (second only to the Biloxi Belle). The boat will be renamed Splash Back. The owners have applied to the Mississippi Gaming Commission for a license.

I sure hope the state takes a close look at this folly and rejects the application. The days when you could tie off a substandard boat to a willow tree and call it a casino are long gone.