Harrah's bill revised again in second Senate committee

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A state Senate committee on Tuesday revised Harrah's new long-term deal - once again - and sent it on to the next step in the process.

In a rare move, it was the second Senate committee vote on the Harrah's deal in as many days.

On Monday it was the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday it was Senate Revenue. Two senate committee votes on the Harrah's Casino deal because it involved revenue of more than $500,000.

"There are a lot of tentacles out there that will grab you," said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.

On a 6-4 vote, the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee added two amendments. One would require 35 percent minority participation in the proposed new Harrah's hotel. The other would push up the hotel completion date.

"It would go from six years to four years - they said they could do it in three, so I'm making it four," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans.

But some senators still question whether the deal is best for the state. Sen. Eddie Lambert of Gonzales asked why there were no state financial experts at the table to explain the deal.

"What happens if they don't fulfill this?" asked Lambert.

"If the investment is not made in four years, the license is not extended," said Peterson.

Harrah's hasn't commented yet on the new financial terms outlined in the amended deal.

"Obviously they have to make a business decision," said Martiny.

That new deal drives up their operating costs by more than $1 billion over the proposed 30-year lease.

"These gentlemen just got the amendments, and they are working through corporate," said Peterson.

Labor interests hope the new contract, complete with a new $350 million hotel, and a promise of 900 jobs,  goes through.

"Temporary construction jobs are important. Our members make over $40 an hour," said Peter Babin, with Louisiana AFL-CIO.

But questions remain.

"If Harrah's is offering a great deal, I give them an 'A' for that, and an 'F' for their public relations effort. There's a whole lot there that hasn't been resolved," said Martiny.

Harrah's spokesman Ryan Berni says they have been reviewing amendments and have been involved in productive talks over the proposed new deal.

The bill has now been referred to the legislative bureau. That body, consisting of a member from both houses, may make recommendations for more amendments before the casino contract extension bill goes to a final vote.

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