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New Orleans May Gamble on Vegas

To help breathe life into the economy, the mayor wants to allow hotels with more than 500 rooms to have casinos.

October 09, 2005|Adam Nossiter | Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Mayor C. Ray Nagin said Friday that he wants to allow Las Vegas-style gambling in the city's larger hotels as a way to jump-start the economy after Hurricane Katrina.

The plan calls for a large-scale gambling area in the city's central business district, stretching from Interstate 10 on the west to the Mississippi River on the east.

"Now is the time for us to think out of the box. Now is the time for some bold leadership, some decisive leadership," Nagin said.

Nagin said gambling should be allowed in hotels that have more than 500 rooms, the majority of which are near the city's famous Canal Street. The plan will require legislative approval.

Gambling is already allowed using video machines in roughly half of Louisiana's 64 parishes, but there's only one full-scale, land-based casino, operated by Harrah's Entertainment Inc., in New Orleans.

Harrah's downtown casino has been closed since shortly before Katrina hit, and the company has not given a timetable for when it might reopen the gambling hall.

Also, three dockside riverboat casinos operate in the New Orleans area.

Nagin made his proposal after Katrina virtually destroyed all 13 dockside casinos on the nearby Mississippi Gulf Coast. A bill to allow operators to rebuild land casinos close to shore has been passed by both the Mississippi House and Senate. Gov. Haley Barbour has said he will sign the measure.

There are currently nine hotels in the city with more than 500 rooms; Nagin said he thought five or six hotels would add casinos.

Nagin would not speculate on what would be involved in getting his casino plan passed but said he hoped Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco -- who has campaigned against additional gambling in Louisiana -- would include it in a recently announced special session, which is scheduled for November.

"Right now we're a cash-strapped city," Nagin said.

Nagin said that he was not fond of gambling and that he wished he had another solution, "but I know of no other way."

He said Harrah's would obviously have to agree to give up its exclusive rights and acknowledged he did not think the company would "do it for free."

Harrah's spokesman Alberto Lopez declined to comment.

"It's the first time I've heard of it," Lopez said.

Dan King, general manager of the city's Sheraton hotel, would not discount the proposal.

"I can't speak for my company. I guess all ideas are worth investigating," he said.

Nagin said he sent a letter to Blanco earlier in the week with his "out of the box" ideas.

The letter asked for a 50% income tax credit for any worker in the city; elimination of the tax on manufacturers' debt; and creation of an income-tax-free zone for manufacturers.

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