Harrah’s New Orleans Must Prohibit Smoking

Harrah’s Casino's request to delay New Orleans' citywide smoking ban, which will take effect April 22, was denied by the city council. Officials said the ban will lead to a 20 percent drop in revenue and puts the casino at a competitive disadvantage since other casinos in the region still will allow smoking.

The Smoke Free Air Act, a city-wide smoking ban will go into effect in New Orleans on Wednesday, April 22, and will include Harrah’s New Orleans. The city council refused the casino’s request to delay implementing the ban in bars and gambling halls. Casino officials asked for the delay in order to have more time to prepare the building and customers for the change. The ban prohibits smoking cigarettes and electronic cigarettes inside casinos and bars, except for cigar and hookah bars already in existence. Casinos only will be allowed to permit smoking in designated outdoor areas.

Harrah’s New Orleans attorneys have said revenues will drop 20 percent because of the ban, costing the city $500,000 in sales taxes and cutting in half the $3.6 million the city receives annually from the state. The company also has said it might seek to reduce its payments to the city by $3.5 million to $13.5 million a year.

Making the request to the city council, Harrah’s attorney Jade Russell said, “What we’re asking you all today, respectfully, is an opportunity to understand really how this impacts one of the largest businesses in the city of New Orleans, both fiscally as well as physically.”

Ordinance sponsor Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said, “This city will continue to be supportive of Harrah’s casino in every way possible, but it has to be as it relates to a safe work environment for all people who deserve it.”

Dan Real, South regional president for Caesars Entertainment and senior vice president and general manager for Harrah’s New Orleans, said in a statement, “I am extremely disheartened that some individuals have resorted to implying Harrah’s doesn’t care about our employees’ well-being.” He added, “Not only would the proposed ban have a negative impact on our revenues, but it also would give other casinos in the region an unfair advantage. The ban only applies to businesses in Orleans Parish, meaning other casinos in Louisiana and neighboring states would not have to comply with it. There isn’t a business in this country that, facing expected revenue losses of 20 percent and competitive bias due to the introduction of a new law, wouldn’t do everything in its power to seek a compromise.”

Real said Harrah’s wants to “work with officials to find a compromise that doesn’t put our business at a competitive disadvantage, weaken financial support for vital public services, or threaten our ability to provide much needed jobs to our valued team members.”

Earlier, Harrah’s had proposed creating a physical separation of the gaming floor to isolate smoking from non-smoking areas. In addition, it offered a direct contribution to the city of New Orleans in an amount equal to $9 million over three years to provide funding for public safety.

Churchill Downs’ Fairgrounds racino is also going to be impacted by the smoking ban.