Despite the recent controversy over an extension of the state’s contract with Harrah’s Casino, a Senate committee narrowly agreed Monday to keep the negotiations moving.
New Orleans Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D) addressed the controversy, saying even though the optics aren’t the best, the conversation should continue.
"Turning our back on an $350 million non-gaming economic investment in my city is not an option," she told members of the Senate Judiciary committee.
But critics, like New Orleans developer Joe Jaeger, say lawmakers need to know how much the casino lease is really worth before they accept Harrah’s offer, "and you don’t have the proper information or the proper analysis to make a decision on whether it's fair or not," he explained.
The bill previously sailed through the House, but all momentum slowed in the Senate when news broke about Harrah's option to sell the casino once the contract was extended.
Lawmakers opposed to the bill say they want more time to do their due diligence, and with six years left on the current contract, some wonder what’s the rush.
But Dan Real, General Manager of Harrah’s New Orleans, says lawmakers are gambling if they don't take this deal.
"There's no guarantee the money will be there next year, that's what the rush is. And if this city and the state doesn't want the $300 million investment, I know 47 other markets that do," he warned.
In exchange for the contract extension securing its spot as the only land-based casino in New Orleans, Harrah's agreed to invest $350 million into the facility.
The bill passed after lawmakers sweetened the deal for the state, increasing the amount of money Harrah’s would have to pay both up front and annually. Plus, what would have been a 30-year contract is now 20 years with the option to extend it another 10 years.
The debate will continue in the Senate, but lawmakers only have until Friday to get it done.