Four state senators look out for state
Four state senators, under the leadership of Senate President John Alario, are having a study done to determine what the state should demand from Harrah’s New Orleans Casino in exchange for a 30-year extension of its operating license. It is the type of study that should have been done before an attempt was made last year to grant the extension.
“We just want to know what’s the best deal for the state and how can we accomplish that,” Alario, R-Westwego, told The Advocate. “If it’s a good arrangement for the state, let’s move forward and get it going.”
Speaker of the House Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, sponsored legislation last year granting the 30-year extension that gives the casino the right to operate the only land casino in New Orleans. The Advocate said the renewal didn’t call for any bid or solicitation process and would have come six years before the casino’s license expired.
The Senate amended the bill, raising the casino’s $60 million minimum annual payment to $80 million. Sen. Gary Smith Jr., D-Norco, offered the Senate amendment. The casino objected to the increase and the bill died when there was no compromise measure.
The other two senators questioning the House legislation were Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville. They complained about the lack of any data or analysis.
“All these fiscal conservatives (in the House) who don’t want to spend a nickel on anything voted to blast it through. That’s amazing to me,” Donahue said. “How can you make a decent decision if you have no information?”
The Advocate said Harrah’s isn’t certain it will remain in New Orleans and hasn’t made major upgrades to the casino in years. The newspaper said Harrah’s win — how much it earned after paying off winners — declined from a peak of $419 million in 2008 to $281 million in 2017. Its 21.5 percent tax payment to the state has declined from $90 million in 2008 to the minimum $60 million in 2017.
The casino study is due Feb. 15. LaFleur said of the study, “It could be the vehicle to approving (Harrah’s plan). It could also be the vehicle that crashes it.”
Whatever the outcome, we hope legislators will learn from this rush to judgment. Our hats off to the four senators who were watching out for the state’s best interests.