Despite protests by Harrah’s Casino New Orleans, the city-wide smoking ban enacted by the city council has gained support since it took effect in April. A report issued by City Hall indicated 64 percent of New Orleans residents favor the ban now, compared to 56 percent who supported it before it took effect. Another professional poll showed 78 percent of New Orleans residents support the ban. That report also showed hazardous chemicals in indoor air decreased by 96 percent. That’s an increase now that it’s in effect. Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies added, “Thirty-nine percent say it makes them more likely to go out to bars and casinos now that they are smoke-free and only eight percent say that they are less likely to go out to bars and casinos.”
Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, who sponsored the smoking ban, said, “We knew the outcome was going to be great when we started this wonderful initiative to protect our most vulnerable people, our employees and our musicians in the city of New Orleans.”
New Orleans Health Department Director Charlotte Parent said, “Because of a strong education campaign, we haven’t had to issue any fines since the Smoke-Free Ordinance went into effect. Most businesses are in complete compliance.”
But Harrah’s officials said they have lost revenue since April while Jefferson Parish casinos, which allow smoking, have gained revenue. Louisiana Gaming Control Board figures show Harrah’s revenue fell in May, June and August but rose in July and September, versus a year ago. In that five-month period, Harrah’s lost revenue overall; revenue at Boomtown in Harvey and the Treasure Chest in Kenner, Jefferson Parish, increased during the same period.
Over the summer, Harrah’s asked the New Orleans city council and planning commission if it could build outdoor courtyards with slot machines. One 1,900 square foot courtyard would hold 62 slots, and a 750 square foot courtyard would offer 25 slots. However, as of mid-October, no action has been taken on the plans, said Cara Hall, Caesars’ New Orleans-based corporate counsel. “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 stated.
Also, in May, Harrah’s asked state legislators to change a 15-year-old requirement that the casino maintain a staff of 2,400 employees at all times. “That requirement is based on laws and operational realities in 2001,” Hall said, noting that paying a staff of 2,400 is “extremely burdensome and unmanageable.” Lawmakers refused to allow the casino to cut 400 jobs.
In fiscal 2014, Harrah’s New Orleans paid Louisiana $73.5 million in taxes on gross gaming revenue. Since opening in 1999, the casino has paid the state more than $1.1 billion in gaming taxes and paid the city more than $280 million for its lease.
Hall said a few of the company’s 40 casinos and resorts in the U.S. and Canada are completely smoke-free, including seven that are non-smoking and others with smoke-free gaming zones. Harrah’s operates the Louisiana Downs and Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City where smoking is permitted.