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New Orleans Welcomes Harrah’s Casino to Downtown

By James Welfley

Under fireworks and the music of Fats Domino the $350 million Harrah’s New Orleans casino opened its doors for business on October 28 in the heart of New Orleans. The 100,000 square foot, land-based casino will employ 2,500 people with projected wages and benefits of more than $50 million annually.

“We are excited to have this project completed and ready to start generating revenue and tourism that Harrah’s is expected to draw,” said New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. “In addition to the 2,500 new gaming jobs, I am also happy to put one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the lower Mississippi Delta – at the foot of Canal Street – back into commerce.”

The casino is located in the Rivergate, the city’s original convention center that had stood vacant since 1991. In 1995, the casino’s owners, Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., and Jazz Casino Company, LLC, noted the Rivergate’s prime location – within walking distance of 17,000 hotel rooms and more than 300 restaurants in a city that boasts 11 million visitors annually – and leased the property from the city. The owners then spent $119 million renovating the building and hired Harrah’s New Orleans Management Company to oversee all aspects of marketing, hiring of personnel and partnering with local business. Under its agreement with the New Orleans, the owners pays the city $18 million in yearly rent and other payments (see box) after the casino opens. It will also pay the state a minimum of $100,000 in taxes every year on top of the estimated $20 million in other annual state tax revenue.

Jay Sevigny, president and chief operating officer of Harrah’s New Orleans, told The Times-Picayune that he shares Mayor Morial’s enthusiasm for the casino’s role in the community: “This is one of the largest construction projects privately funded that the city has ever seen. It is one that comes not only with an absence of tax abatement, but rather it comes with a strong obligation to contribute taxes. There are no taxpayer incentives here.” Added Sevigny, “We are, by design of the deal, heavily involved with making substantial economic impact in this community, and we look forward to finding more ways to do that.”

In negotiating the lease and other agreements with Harrah’s New Orleans, the city ensured that the following contributions will be made to the local community:

  • Orleans Parish School Board: $2 million per year

  • New Orleans Police Department: $875,000 for each of the first two years the casino is open

  • New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation: $1 million per year

  • Newcorp (small business incubator): $1.25 million over 5 years

  • Organizations that foster opportunities for disadvantaged minority businesses: $500,000 per year

  • Audubon Zoo & Entergy IMAX Theatre: 650,000 tickets purchased for charitable use 

Source: The Times-Picayune, Harrah’s


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