NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - After two hours of often intense debate, the state Senate voted 21 to 16 Wednesday night to grant Harrah's a new 20-year lease with a 10-year option.
But senators backed off of an earlier amendment requiring Harrah's to pay $40 million more each year.
It was a debate over a billion dollar deal, with senators making last-minute adjustments worth tens of millions of dollars.
"I was wondering if they had someone from Harrah's we could bring them in and negotiate the deal. Just a thought," said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.
"Well we could bring in some dice tables too," added Senate President John Alario, D-Westwego.
Many lawmakers felt rushed into a 30-year deal worth more than a billion dollars to keep Harrah's in New Orleans.
"We need to slow this down, get the information we need and then we will be in a much better position," said Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield.
At one point, senators voted to give Harrah's back $30 million a year from an amendment placed on the bill in Senate committee. They then revised that to $20 million, over and above the current deal, that's been in place since the late 1990s.
In the end, senators voted to extend Harrah's contract, with five votes to spare, six years before the current one expires.
"It is a $350 million investment with no subsidies, represents over a billion dollars investment over 20 years," said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans.
The new deal requires Harrah's to build a new 350-room hotel, in four years.
Harrah's is indicating there may be more changes as the bill heads back over to the House for agreement on Senate changes. Harrah's spokesman Ryan Berni said the company "looks forward to continuing discussions with leadership on amendments."
This new deal requires Harrah's to also make an upfront payment of $40 million. If Harrah's doesn't build the new hotel in four years, the deal is off.