Less than a week after introducing an ordinance to exempt Harrah’s New Orleans Casino from the indoor smoking ban that the City Council passed on Thursday, Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey said Monday that she was withdrawing the proposal.
Ramsey’s chief of staff, Kara Johnson, said the councilwoman had been under the mistaken impression that she was introducing the measure on behalf of Mayor Mitch Landrieu and decided to pull it from consideration when she learned the mayor did not support it.
A spokesman for Landrieu said he did not request the casino exemption.
It is not clear who drafted the ordinance.
The proposal would have removed Harrah’s from the list of places — mostly barrooms — where smoking will be prohibited when a ban on indoor smoking and use of electronic cigarettes goes into effect in a few months. The City Council unanimously passed the ban last week.
Harrah’s was a vocal critic of the ordinance. A company spokesman said the ban would cause the casino to lose millions of dollars annually and hinted that Harrah’s might attempt to renegotiate its lease agreement with the city if the ban passed.
“We feel that it is very important that (issue) is explored and talked about and that the effects on our lease with the city are discussed prior to passing this ban,” Harrah’s Vice President of Human Resources and Community Relations Logan Gaskill told the council before its vote.
Harrah’s contends that under the terms of its lease agreement with the city, which lays out various requirements such as the number of people the casino must employ, it can renegotiate the terms of the deal if the city passes legislation that would impact its business.
“This ban will have a negative impact on our ability to drive tourists to this city and increase our revenues, particularly in the competitive set where we have competitors in Jefferson Parish, Baton Rouge and in Mississippi,” Gaskill said. “So we are not all playing on the same playing field.”
Ramsey made no effort at Thursday’s meeting to amend the ordinance to exempt Harrah’s.
The measure passed by the council makes it illegal, with a few exceptions, to smoke in all enclosed public spaces, private clubs, correctional facilities and school buildings in the city. It essentially extends the Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act of 2007, which banned smoking in restaurants and most workplaces but allowed smoking in casinos and in bars that are not attached to restaurants.
Violating the ban would carry a $100 fine for individuals for a first offense, plus up to $200 for a second offense and up to $500 for a third offense if those take place within 12 months of the first violation.
In addition to the individual fines, owners, managers and operators of bars, casinos or other public places that do not enforce the ban could have their operating permits or licenses suspended or revoked.
Unless Landrieu vetoes it, the ban will go into effect in late April.