Harrah's casino

Advocate file photo

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell supports a legislative bill that would extend Harrah’s state license to operate the only land casino in New Orleans, the mayor announced Friday.

Cantrell’s support removes what may have been the biggest potential obstacle to legislation that would renew Harrah’s license for 30 years, five years before its current license expires and without having to face competitors through a public bid process.

House Bill 544 is sponsored by the Legislature’s two most powerful members, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

“As the conversation has progressed since last year’s session, we’ve moved towards an agreement that truly is a win-win for the city, for the state, and for our residents,” Cantrell said in a statement, adding that she expects the project will create jobs.

Harrah’s owner, Caesars Entertainment, is pledging to spend $325 million while adding a second hotel to its project once state lawmakers guarantee company officials that they will renew the company’s monopoly land casino.

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Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks in New Orleans, La., Friday, April 12, 2019. 

A year ago, Caesars officials said the new 340-room hotel and increased business at the casino would generate 500 permanent jobs. But they objected to adding language to the legislation that would mandate a 500-employee increase in the minimum number of workers that the casino is required to employ. That number is 2,400.

Harrah’s effort to extend the state license last year failed on the final day of the legislative session with state senators, led by Alario, demanding more money than Caesars was willing to pay.

Afterward, Alario commissioned a study, which said that Harrah’s should pay more than what Barras’ bill sought last year but less than what senators wanted.

This year’s bill offers tens of millions of dollars more during the additional 30-year period, which would end in 2054.

Of that money, the city would receive $20 million as a one-time payment (the state would receive $45 million) and $6 million annually, up from $3.6 million today, to help offset the city’s costs to provide fire and police protection for the casino.

Cantrell’s support is important not only because it should ease passage of HB544 through the Legislature but also because Harrah’s will be seeking zoning changes to build the new hotel and additional amenities that will require approval of the mayor and the City Council.

Councilman Jay Banks, whose district includes the casino at the foot of Poydras Street, also announced Friday that he is supporting HB544.

“We have a rare second shot at a big win and economic investment for our city,” Banks said in a statement.



Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @tegbridges.