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Mayor says gambling key to reviving New Orleans economy

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Though he said he is not particularly keen on the practice and would prefer another solution, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is proposing the implementation of Las Vegas-style gambling in order to jumpstart his city’s economy after Hurricane Katrina.

“I know of no other way,” he said at a news conference Oct. 7, according to the Associated Press, adding that gambling is “an incredible opportunity to accelerate growth.”

Nagin’s plan would call for a large-scale gambling area in the city’s central business district, mostly along the well-known Canal Street. Gambling should only be allowed in hotels that have more than 500 rooms, Nagin said, and probably five or six of the nine eligible establishments would take advantage of the offer.

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

Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, mentioned his thoughts on the mayor’s proposal in his ongoing Hurricane Katrina log, posted at www.joemckeever.com.

“This week Nagin was quoted in the paper citing Scripture, amazingly the 2 Chronicles 7:14 passage about repenting and turning from our evil ways to get God’s healing. Now he calls for widespread gambling,” McKeever wrote Oct. 9. “Gambling — the last corrupt idea of a dead brain cell. ‘Oh? We can’t get any legitimate businesses going? I know — let’s gamble.’ Thankfully, in the Sunday paper, city council leaders were saying it’s the first they’ve heard of it and that it’s truly a bad idea.”

Louisiana Senate President Don Hines, a Democrat, said it isn’t likely the plan will pass in the state legislature.

“I’ll listen to it, but I’m not too excited about it at this stage of the ball game,” he told AP. “We’re pretty well saturated with gaming in this state already.”

Video gambling already is allowed in about half of the state’s 64 parishes, and Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. operates a full-scale, land-based casino in New Orleans. Three dockside riverboat casinos draw money from New Orleans patrons as well, AP reported.

Even so, Hines said gambling hasn’t been a major draw for New Orleans and he doesn’t expect the addition of other casinos to generate much business.

On the other side, Rep. Danny Martiny, a Republican and chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, said the gambling proposal stands a good chance of passing given the extreme circumstances under which it would be implemented.

“I think the whole attitude toward gaming is going to change,” Martiny said, according to AP. “A lot of people voted against it [in the past] because it was morally wrong. I think the whole landscape has changed. Nagin has to find some kind of engine to kick-start the economy. I’m not saying that’s the solution, but it needs to be discussed.”

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, campaigned against expanding gambling and has so far not returned requests for comment on Nagin’s proposal, AP said.

In order for New Orleans hotels to win the right to open casinos, the legislature and voters must approve it and Harrah’s would have to consent to the measure. Currently, Harrah’s owns a state-granted monopoly on land-based casinos in New Orleans in exchange for paying a minimum of $60 million each year in state gambling taxes. But Harrah’s has been closed in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

Both the Mississippi House and Senate have already approved a proposal to rebuild the state’s 13 casinos on land after years of floating on the coast before Katrina. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has agreed to sign the legislation.

Nagin, in a letter to Blanco, mentioned the need to compete with the Mississippi casinos in order to gain business and workers, AP reported.

“With the Mississippi Gulf Coast gaming industry also in recovery, the race would be on to capture their reported 28,000 casino workers and estimated $150 million in taxes,” he wrote.

But Martiny said he doesn’t expect Blanco to take up the issue swiftly.

“I don’t think the governor is going to call a special session next week and ask us to pass Nagin’s proposal,” he told AP Oct. 8. “Some people will say that’s not the solution, but I don’t see a lot of Fortune 500 companies looking at us right now.”

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