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Senate Judiciary Committee set to debate controversial Harrah's license agreement

Harrah's Casino in New Orleans (Source: FOX 8) Harrah's Casino in New Orleans (Source: FOX 8)
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

The controversial Harrah's license agreement will come up for debate Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

RELATED: Zurik: NOLA council pres. opposes Harrah's deal amid lobbying blitz

RELATED: Zurik: Harrah's negotiations filled with possible conflicts

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At least one lawmaker says there are more important issues they have to deal with.

The bill already passed the House, and will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon.

In return for a new contract, Harrah's has proposed a $350 million re-development with no subsidy, in addition to a new entertainment venue they already have under construction.

Harrah's says the redevelopment would bring 600 construction jobs and 900 permanent jobs to the city.

Harrah's current license doesn't expire for another six years, which is leaving some to question why this deal needs to be made right now; especially when state lawmakers have just six weeks to avoid a fiscal cliff.

New Orleans Senator J.P Morrell made his position known in a statement Sunday night, saying he would vote today to defer the bill for another legislative session saying, "the looming crisis facing our state, and our city, the noise surrounding this deal is an unwarranted distraction."

Harrah's General Manager also released a statement Sunday night saying the bill was an economic growth package when the state needed it most.

"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 Ieads to better revenue for the city and the state," Said Dan Real, Regional President for Caesars Entertainment. "It is 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."

Councilman Jay H. Banks said the proposal was a "win-win" for the city in an issued statement released Monday morning: 

"Harrah’s New Orleans has been an economic engine for tourism in the City of New Orleans, and a model for workforce development and inclusion in District B and throughout the City. This new proposal does not require one cent in City or State incentives or subsidies.  Instead, this project will provide 900 new jobs in my district, substantial upfront funding for the City and State, and $37 million in total annual receipts for the City of New Orleans, including incremental increases in rent, property tax, sales tax and a direct annual payment of the $3.6 million casino support services funding that the City is owed, but has to beg the State for every year. 

It is important we add value to New Orleans when and where we can. Because Harrah’s holds its license for the next 6 years, there isn’t another opportunity for this kind of investment until then. We cannot wait six years to see this opportunity for a better, financially stronger New Orleans.

This proposal seems to be a win-win for the City, the State and Harrah’s. The new jobs and revenues this investment will create will pay dividends for the people of New Orleans. I certainly welcome any opportunity to strengthen the legislation and to allay any concerns held by the Governor or my colleagues on the City Council.  Research shows the proposed deal compares favorably to other licenses and gaming contracts in and out of this state.  It is important this moves forward now for the people of District B, the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. 

Doing nothing and turning our backs on this kind of opportunity shouldn’t be our position, working diligently towards a tenable agreement should be our mission before the session ends." 

Morrell said he will vote to defer, but how the other six members of the committee will vote is uncertain.

The committee will meet to discuss the bill at 1 p.m.

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