Legislation that would allow Harrah’s New Orleans Casino to reduce its staffing by 400 people was delayed Tuesday in the Legislature after complaints that city officials were unaware of the request.

An amendment allowing Harrah’s to reduce its personnel level to 2,000 employees was tacked onto legislation involving the state’s operating license with the Las Vegas-based company running the giant New Orleans casino.

Harrah’s agreed to maintain certain staffing levels as part of its license. The legislation, as amended, seeks to lower the number of employees required.

But New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and City Council members, while aware something was up, had not been told of Harrah’s staffing plans, said state Sen. Karen Peterson, the Democrat in whose district Harrah’s Casino is located. She said she spoke to Landrieu earlier Tuesday.

Peterson asked that a decision on Senate Bill 236 be postponed for a week to allow city officials to meet with legislators and Harrah’s executives.

“As a condition of its lease as the state’s only land-based casino, Harrah’s Casino made a job creation commitment to the people of New Orleans and Louisiana,” Landrieu’s press secretary, Brad Howard, said in a statement after the Senate hearing. “We should continue to hold them accountable to that commitment. Mayor Landrieu opposes this legislation, which basically allows Harrah’s Casino to unfairly renege on its promise to the people of New Orleans with no valid reason to do so.”

The city passed an indoor smoking ban that went into effect in late April. Harrah’s attempted to get an exemption, arguing that the move could reduce its revenue by 20 percent, based on how similar measures have affected casinos elsewhere.

The smoking ban imposed by the City Council will have a negative financial impact on the casino’s gambling areas, where smoking is usually allowed, but the need to reduce staff is more of a business necessity to bring labor costs in line with competitors in the industry, said Dan Real, Southern regional president for Caesars Entertainment and senior vice president and general manager for Harrah’s New Orleans.

“We’re trying to run our business in a manner that is efficient,” Real said.

Reductions would be handled by attrition, he said. The business already has a turnover of about 600 employees a year. Many of those jobs just wouldn’t be filled.

But several senators said “attrition” was too broad a term and questioned why Harrah’s presented no actual plan that would detail the types of jobs and employees who would be eliminated.

“I would hope you can give us a real plan so people will know how you are going to do this,” Peterson said, adding that based on what she has read, she could see the reasoning behind a staff reduction, but that she has not made up her mind.

Mary Martin Fein, public relations manager for the Louisiana Public Health Institute, issued a statement ssaying, “It is a huge disappointment to see ... Harrah’s continuously working to undermine the smoke-free ordinance the council passed unanimously back in January.”

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