For the first time since the city’s smoking ban went into effect, revenue was up last month at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, which posted a 26 percent gain from a year ago, according to the state’s casino report released Thursday.
The land-based casino took in almost $36 million in revenue in July, up from $20.7 million in June. It made $28.5 million in July 2014.
Harrah’s credited July’s uptick to its table games. Meanwhile, slot revenues were down 19.5 percent for the month, Harrah’s said in a statement as it worked to downplay its own good fortune as an outlier. “If you remove the isolating factors that led to this gain, revenues would have been down 19 percent for the month,” the casino said.
In a separate statement, Harrah’s New Orleans spokeswoman Jade Russell said the casino’s slot revenue is “always the source of the vast majority of our gaming revenue.”
“That is the best indicator as to what is happening beyond the volatility we experienced in July on tables games,” she added.
Harrah’s has been a vocal opponent of the smoking ban, which went into effect in April. Despite July’s gains, the casino warned Thursday that it expects its monthly revenue to fall by as much as 15 percent on average, based on other regions that have implemented smoking bans.
While its admission numbers also rose, Harrah’s attributed the increase to the ban, because more people likely are entering and leaving the downtown building to smoke outside. “We expect to see continued volatility in month-to-month revenue comparisons as we adjust to the operational challenges the smoking ban has presented,” Harrah’s said.
The Fair Grounds racetrack, which also went smoke-free in April, made $3.5 million in July, about $63,820 less than it made for the same month a year ago, according to the state’s casino report.
The market’s three riverboats each posted year-over-year gains, ranging from 8 percent to nearly 15 percent. Overall, casinos in the market took in $64 million in July, nearly 19 percent more than a year ago.
Statewide, casino revenue increased nearly 17 percent to $248.23 million.
For months, Harrah’s had sought an exemption from the smoking ban, and its top executives cast doomsday projections early on that the casino soon would lose 20 percent of its business as a result, which ultimately would mean fewer tax dollars flowing into local and state coffers.
Harrah’s made about $20.7 million in revenue in June, down from about $24.1 million in May. The June figures were down almost 31 percent from a year earlier. Casino officials said the downturn was directly related to the fledgling smoking ban.
In light of the ban, Harrah’s officials have asked the state Gaming Control Board to back its bid to adjust the legal requirements that set how many employees it must hire. So far, that push has failed to gain much traction.
“Harrah’s New Orleans continues to work with city and state officials to review ways to mitigate the challenges imposed by the smoking ban, both as they relate to our customers and employees,” the casino said Thursday, noting that it hopes to develop two outdoor courtyards for smokers that would cut down on so many of its gamblers coming and going from the facility.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.