NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On the eve of a committee meeting where senators are to vote on whether to give Harrah's Casino another 30 years on its New Orleans license, Senator J.P. Morrell and Harrah's GM Dan Real released statements on the deal.
Senator J.P. Morrell announced that he is in favor of deferring the deal. He says that there is no time to worry about the deal with Harrah's with the budget crisis looming.
FOX 8 reported, Friday in a special Lee Zurik Investigation, that one of the lobbyists Harrah's hired is Ira Middleberg. Morrell works for Middleberg's firm.
The following is the statement from Senator Morrell:
This morning, Mother's Day, I watched, then read, the heart wrenching tale of Erika Zak on CNN.
Erika is a 38-year-old mother and wife, who defeated stage 4 metastatic colon cancer but is dying. Her liver, damaged by microwave ablation surgery, is failing and she is dying. So, she began the second fight of her life... with her insurance company.
Sitting with my wife and kids, enjoying breakfast today on Mother's Day, this story deeply affected me. To be powerless in the face of callous CEOs making decisions regarding whether you live or die, it's terrifying.
Inevitably, I saw the obvious parallels between her plight and tens of thousands of Louisianans at the mercy of the Louisiana State Legislature and our budget crisis. As we contemplate passing 'fake' budgets as part of a 'process', we are playing games and, consequently, playing with people's lives.
A $650+ million shortfall is less than two months away. As we squabble, 35,000+ nursing home recipients are being told that they are about to be evicted. With no clear and reasonable revenue agreement in place, we alternate between closing hospitals with medical schools, burdening families with crippling college debt, or cutting services to the Department of Children and Family Services.
As the Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, my role is to try to shepherd revenue raising measures through this process to avert this disaster. It's an awesome, and terrifying, responsibility that weighs on me every single day.
Some of the issues being debated this session are tremendously important, such as criminal justice reform or public safety. Other bills are innocuous and warrant little to no debate, like renaming highways or changing the membership of security districts. However, there are some bills that are neither important nor insignificant.
House Bill 553, regarding the renewal of the Harrah's gaming license is one such bill. The amount of time, energy and effort that has been expended by the proponents and opponents of this bill is staggering. The Senate has been barraged by the effort of over a dozen registered lobbyists each one of whom is trying to explain why this bill is a 'good deal' for the City of New Orleans and State of Louisiana. On the other hand, the opposition has its own horde of unregistered lobbyists to advocate for competing business interests. Both sides have expended an immense amount of time trying to shape opinions, news and narratives to get their own way.
As someone inside this chaotic budget crisis, this Harrah's deal is truly unworthy of our attention. Whether you believe the current deal is a good one or whether there is time to negotiate a better one, either position is immaterial.
With the looming crisis facing our state, and our city, the noise surrounding this deal is an unwarranted distraction. I do not want myself or my colleagues to be distracted. The citizens of Louisiana deserve much better than that. And, I'm going to use my position to insist they get it. Consideration of an early renewal of this license right now, is like trying to get a lower lease payment on your car while you home is under foreclosure. We need to get our home in order.
Negotiations of this kind are about maximizing leverage and should never be negotiated until each party is on equal footing. The State of Louisiana is broke and can't pay its bills, a circumstance that makes any extra money seem attractive. That's not a good place to start a negotiation.
Tomorrow, in Senate Judiciary B Committee, I will cast my vote to defer this bill for this legislative session. A future legislature will have ample time to reconsider this issue when the budget crisis has passed.
I am putting my position on the record, before committee, because the legislature is trying to adjourn by Friday, May 18th. The purpose of the early adjournment is to spare taxpayers the additional cost of a special session. Bills of this nature, with tremendous forces on both sides vying for supremacy, will destroy a possibility of this happening.
Also releasing a statement Sunday night was Caesars Regional President and Harrah's New Orleans General Manager Dan Real:
"In the last year, Harrah's New Orleans had to turn away over 93,000 visitors because of a lack of hotel space. Caesars, which operates 48 properties across the U.S. and abroad, has offered a nearly $350 million investment into our New Orleans property to help bring new visitors, create new jobs and grow tax revenues over the next decade. Current law prohibits the additional non-gaming investments such as hotels and restaurants. Harrah's is not asking for a single subsidy or handout. This is an economic growth package when the state needs it most. A vote to delay is for years of uncertainty for over 2500 hard-working employees and over $100 million lost for the State and City budgets. A vote against HB 553 is a vote against growing the economy. Louisiana cannot afford to turn away a nearly $350 million unsubsidized investment in a project that will grow the pie for everyone. Louisiana cannot afford another year delay on 600 construction jobs and 900 permanent jobs. The City of New Orleans cannot afford another year fighting for its $3.6 million budget allocation for casino support services. That's why HB 553 has broad support from the business, labor and hospitality communities. We all need HB 553 now."