Harrah’s New Orleans revenues down again, official blames smoking ban as gamblers flock to riverboat casinos to puff and play _lowres (copy)

Twenty years ago this month, Harrah’s New Orleans Casino opened its doors, capping off a nearly decade-long effort to bring a land-based casino to the city. The casino opened to the public Oct. 28, 1999.

"We had some long days and some long nights, but we finally got here," Mayor Marc Morial said in The Times-Picayune. "Like a phoenix, this project has risen after being written off by so many."

The Louisiana Legislature approved a land-based casino in 1992, and in 1995 Harrah's opened a temporary casino in the Municipal Auditorium. It closed after six months, and the project spent three years in bankruptcy reorganization.

The $381 million casino at the foot of Canal Street was designed by Perez Ernst Farnet Architects. Its pediment features friezes by artists Robert Warrens and George Dureau. The building sits on the site of the former Rivergate convention center, which was demolished.

On opening night, about 9,000 VIPs had the 100,000-square-foot gaming floor to themselves for a few hours before the casino opened to the general public. Free concerts during opening weekend featured Fats Domino, Pete Fountain, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Dr. John, Deacon John, Aaron Neville and Irma Thomas.

The casino generated $250 million in revenue during its first year, which fell short of projections. It filed for bankruptcy in January 2001. To help revive the casino, state lawmakers voted to reduce Harrah’s minimum tax liability and loosened restrictions that prohibited the casino from operating a hotel and restaurant.