Louisiana Senate Extends Caesars Entertainment’s Deal for Harrah’s Casino

The Louisiana Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that extends Caesars Entertainment’s contract for operating Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans. If approved by the House, the bill would allow the company to operate the casino for another twenty to thirty years, provided it invests $350 million in a major overhaul over the next four years.

In a 21-16 vote that barely covered the minimum of 20 votes, the Senate approved an amendment that puts a cap of $20 million on the additional minimum payment in taxes to the state. Under the proposal, which still needs to pass the House and receive Gov. John Bel Edwards’ approval, the casino would have to pay the State of Louisiana at least $83.6 million a year. In addition, the minimum annual payments to New Orleans would be $6 million. The legislation, namely House Bill 553 (HB533), extends Caesars Entertainment Corporation’s state gambling license by 20 years with an option for another 10 years. The current 25-year lease allowing Caesars to operate Harrah’s expires in 2024.

The deal passed by the Senate on Wednesday also includes a one-time payment of $40 million. The company would have to pay upfront around $30 million to the state and another $10 million to New Orleans. According to another provision in the bill, Caesars may need to double this contribution if it decides to transfer the property lease. The operator is expected to give the lease to a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in the coming months or years. Additionally, it would have to spend $350 million in a large-scale modernization and renovation project that envisions a new hotel to be added to the casino complex.

Before Caesars can continue with its plans for the New Orleans casino, HB533 will have to receive the House’s approval. On March 29, the House passed the bill sponsored by Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, but the current version of the proposal requires Caesars to increase the payments it makes to the state as taxes. It is, therefore, still uncertain whether the company would agree to the new terms but according to Harrah’s New Orleans General Manager Don Real, the deal is a positive and visionary change that would be beneficial for both the city and the casino.

Gambling Expansion without Full Support from Legislators

If HB533 receives support from the House, it will be the second gambling bill approved by legislators. On Tuesday, the House passed major legislation that allows riverboat casinos to come to land and offer more slot machines. Under Senate Bill 316, Louisiana’s 15 floating casinos will crawl out of the water to become land-based casinos. Currently, casinos in the state need to have operational paddle wheels to be granted gambling licenses, even though they remain docked instead of actually sailing. Approved by both the Senate and the House, the bill is expected to be easily ratified by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Another piece of legislation, Senate Bill 417, is still nowhere near becoming a law. If passed, it would allow a riverboat casino to move from Bossier Parish to Tangipahoa Parish. More importantly for the gambling industry in the state, Louisiana lawmakers decided not to allow sports betting. Earlier, the Senate Finance Committee rejected a proposal by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, that would legalize sports wagering. This came in sharp contrast to the historic SCOTUS ruling on Monday, which overturned the state-wide ban on sports betting, known as PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992).

As the Supreme Court views the ban unconstitutional, individual states will now start to pass sports betting legalization legislature. Louisiana, however, will not be among them. And it will miss huge opportunities, Senator Martiny believes, explaining that this indistry would be one of the biggest money generators in the state.

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