Harrah’s New Orleans has asked the city council and planning commission if it can build outdoor smoking courtyards with slot machines and has asked the state of Louisiana if it can reduce its workforce from levels decreed 15 years ago.
Cara Hall, Caesars’ New Orleans-based corporate counsel, said, “On August 31, we filed a land-use application, seeking an amendment to the existing conditional use, to build two smoking courtyards on casino property. The land-use application was on course to be heard before the city planning commission on October 13. Unfortunately, it was deferred. Pending approvals, we hope to place limited slot machines in the courtyards to help offset a revenue decline since the Smoke-Free Act went into effect,” Hall said. The parish-wide smoking ban took effect in April, and since then, Harrah’s has lost revenue while earnings have increased at nearby Jefferson Parish casinos where smoking is permitted.
Hall said Harrah’s would construct a 1,900 square foot courtyard on South Peters Street with 62 slots and a 750 square foot courtyard on Convention Center Boulevard with 25 slots, both replacing two temporary smoking areas with secure, permanent locations. “These courtyards wouldn’t be accessible from the street and parking areas. Both courtyards will have appropriate surveillance, consistent with the rest of the property. They will provide a secure area, where guests can comfortably smoke in compliance with the indoor ban.”
She added, “The courtyards will blend in seamlessly and organically with the casino premises. They’ll actually improve the appearance of the existing structure. But like most courtyards, there will be some exposure to the elements.”
Hall said Caesars hopes the New Orleans City Council and planning commission will approve Harrah’s courtyards soon because “it’s important for our business and the city to accommodate the needs of our smoking patrons and to address safety issues that can arise with patrons flocking to the nearest exits to smoke.”
Hall said Las Vegas-based Caesars operates seven smoke-free casinos and some that offer smoke-free gaming areas among its 40 facilities in the United States and Canada. Harrah’s operates the Louisiana Downs and Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, where smoking is allowed on the gaming floor.
Harrah’s, which opened in 1999, also wants to cut 400 jobs from the state’s mandated 2,400, due to declining revenues. Hall said the work force would be reduced through attrition, not layoffs. She added employing 2,400 individuals is “extremely burdensome and unmanageable.” She said the state legislature denied its request in May. “Earlier this year, Harrah’s New Orleans and some of its employees requested that the state revisit a 15-year-old requirement that Harrah’s at all times maintain 2,400 employees. That requirement is based on laws and operational realities in 2001. Since then numerous changes have occurred in the casino industry, technology and laws and regulations that impact Harrah’s,” Hall said. She noted legislators may review the situation after Louisiana’s next governor takes office in January.
According to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, Harrah’s revenue decreased compared to May, June and August 2014, but increased in July and September. Earnings declined during that five-month period. In that same time, revenue rose at Boomtown in Harvey and the Treasure Chest in Kenner, both in Jefferson Parish.
Boomtown spokeswoman Julie Donald said the casino, owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, attributes its success “to our exceptional guest service, our brand new $20 million, 150-room hotel and our strong marketing strategy,” not the fact that smoking is allowed there.
The state of Louisiana received $73.5 million in taxes on gross gaming revenues from Harrah’s New Orleans in fiscal 2014. It has paid the state more than $1.1 billion in gaming taxes and paid the city more than $280 million for its lease since opening in 1999.