Harrah's talks contract extension proposal; shows second floor transformation

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Harrah's Casino defends its push for a 30-year contract renewal before its current contract runs out.

"This is Canal Street entrance over here, that's actually where the stage is going to go," said Dan Real, Regional President of Caesars Entertainment which owns Harrah's Casino.

Real gave FOX 8 News a first look at the construction of Harrah's new entertainment venue called, The Fillmore New Orleans, which is in partnership with Live Nation. It is located on the long vacant second floor of the casino that is located at the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans.

"Right now, we have 2530 employees, with the live entertainment venue it will change by about 80 employees," Real said of the project.

At the state capitol, the House of Representatives has given approval to a bill by House Speaker Taylor Barras and others to extend the casino's contract with the state for 30 years, even though the current contract still has six years left.

A senate committee could take action on the bill in a matter of days.

"It's really important that we move now. Number one, last year alone we turned away over 93,000 visitors to the city because we just don't have access in our hotel," stated Real.

The casino said under the existing casino contract, the term expires July 2024, and there are no provisions in Louisiana's Gaming Act for renewal beyond then, unlike the ongoing renewal of licenses that apply to riverboat casinos in the state.

In return for the proposed 30-year contract, Harrah's proposes a $350 million redevelopment with any subsidies, in addition to the new entertainment venue already under construction.

The casino said the redevelopment would include a new 340 room hotel.

"The hotel would be built right above our porte cochère, where you come in from the casino valet area," continued Real.

He said business-wise branching out is critical.

"If we simply focus on gaming tables and slots, we will remain flat, or down, but we do need to make these changes, in order to show growth again which then leads to better revenue for the city and the state," said Real.

Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative group opposes the proposed contract extension.

And others have questioned why Harrah's is seeking it now.

Real said they have been engaging with lawmakers from the city and others in the legislature for a long while, so what may seem like quick action by the House has been a lengthy process.

Additionally, Harrah's said the economic benefits to both the state and city from its proposed investment would be numerous:

--$13 million annually in new taxes to the state

--$8 million in increased rent, incremental property and sales taxes to the city

--600 construction jobs

--900 new jobs, including 500 direct and 400 indirect.

"The financial commitments will be written into the bill and we are also, as I said, since year 2000 we have not only met, but exceeded our goals," said Real.

Recently Sen. President John Alario told FOX 8 News he would want to make sure Harrah's lives up to its end of the bargain, in terms of staffing and employment levels.

"So they are looking at trying to develop the second floor on Harrah's for a restaurant, entertainment venues and the like and I think that's a plus but again we want to make sure that they are investing the monies in the proper way," said Alario, R-Westwego.

FOX 8 wanted to know if failure to get the requested extension could cause Harrah's to walk away after its current contract expires in 2024.

"That's a tough question and we'll have to see where we stand at that point in time," answered Real.

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