Harrah's bill likely to remain in limbo as senator calls for a halt

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The governor's office says a vote on a new deal to extend the Harrah's contract is not likely this week.

As high level talks continue to salvage the deal, there are renewed calls to hold off.

Harrah's Casino New Orleans is at the center of some of the most intense lobbying Baton Rouge lawmakers have seen as a bill to extend its lease now languishes in Senate committee.

"Two weeks ago, this was the most heavily lobbied bill. Now it's on life support," said FOX 8 political analyst Mike Sherman.

Sherman is also a real estate lawyer who does consulting work for hotel owner Joe Jaeger, a vocal critic of the new deal. Two weeks ago, Sherman uncovered an option for Harrah's parent company, Caesars Entertainment, to sell Harrah's to real estate investment firm Vici if the contract extension bill goes through.

"The Caesars sale was hidden in plain sight. It's public, but you have to search through thousands of documents to find it," Sherman said.

Harrah's counters that it did, in fact, disclose an option to sell to Vici, allowing it to become the leaseholder, similar to the way other casinos in Louisiana are structured.

"It's been discovered that Caesars can sell the asset for up to a billion dollars," said Sherman.

While Harrah's says the new deal would provide 900 new jobs, a U.S.senator says Louisiana can do better.

"The state will reap $125 million. I have talked to some financial advisers who have said if that's the case, Harrah's would get a billion extra dollars. I don't think the taxpayers ought to settle for 10 cents on a dollar," said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA.

Kennedy says not only is the casino extension bill a bad deal, but he says it includes a 30-year option on top of a new 30-year extension.

"This could be a 60-plus year deal," Kennedy said. "We need to slow this thing down."

"All the riverboats in Louisiana, and any land-based casino in other states has a suitability clause in their contracts or license that allow for automatic renewals without bid. The Legislature would put in place what every one else has currently," said Harrah's spokesman Ryan Berni.

Harrah's is offering to spend $350 million to build a new hotel, which they say will generate $13 million in new taxes for the state.

Kennedy says at a time when the state is looking at closing hospitals and cutting TOPS to meet its budget, there's no excuse for lawmakers to proceed with the bill, especially since he says there are no financial experts watching to make sure it's the best deal for taxpayers.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.