|THE RIVERGATE||title page | contents | appendices | cd-book cover|
of events in the gambling blitz
6 january 1986 - 21 november 1995
by c.b. forgotston
6 January 1986
Gov. Edwin Edwards launched a campaign to allow ten to fifteen Las Vegas-style casinos in New Orleans.
Legislation introduced by some Vieux Carré business interests to authorize a "Monte Carlo-style" casino to be housed in the old Wildlife and Fisheries Building (Civil Courts Building, erected 1907-1909) in the Vieux Carré; legislature rejected casino bill killing Edwards' gambling plan for the time being.
24 October 1987
In the governor's primary election that Edwards called a referendum on gambling, he withdrew after trailing U.S. Representative Buddy Roemer who campaigned on an anti-gambling platform.
20 November 1987
Previously authorized by the legislature, off-track betting on horse races began at Louisiana race tracks at various locations around the state.
Legislature passed a constitutional amendment authorizing a statewide lottery.
6 October 1990
Louisiana voters approved a statewide lottery.
Legislature legalized video poker -- a kind of slot machine -- at bars, restaurants, race tracks, and truck stops; Gov. Roemer allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
Legislature legalized casino gambling on riverboats; Gov. Roemer signed the law allowing riverboats on selected waterways.
6 September 1991
First lottery tickets went on sale; a day later two Arkansas women tried to cash in a bogus winning ticket; they were arrested.
22 April 1992
The City of New Orleans advertised in the Wall Street Journal for proposals on what to do with the 6.5 acre city-owned Rivergate convention hall site.
Ten companies -- including Harrah's, New Orleans Louisiana Development Corporation (also known as Jazzville), Caesars World, and Chris Hemmeter's Celebration Park -- responded to the City's request, saying they wanted to build a casino at the site.
12 June 1992
Six years after Edwards proposed the idea, the Legislature voted to allow a large land-based casino in New Orleans.
18 June 1992
Gov. Edwin Edwards signed into law the act which authorized a land-based casino.
30 June 1992
First 800 video poker machines were turned on; eventually over 16,000 machines operated at over 4,000 sites.
31 July 1992
Opponents challenged the casino act in State District Court.
16 September 1992
New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy announced the final four in the Rivergate casino lease sweepstakes: Hemmeter/Caesar, New Orleans Louisiana Development Corporation/Showboat, Mirage Resorts/Harrah's, and Casino Orleans Consortium/Carnival Management Services.
5 November 1992
Mayor Barthelemy picked Hemmeter/Caesars to lease the Rivergate for development of a casino.
18 December 1992
The Louisiana Economic Development and Gaming Corporation, the state casino board, met for the first time; the board's job was to select and license an operator for the casino.
26 February 1993
The New Orleans City Planning Commission approved Hemmeter's plans to demolish the Rivergate and build what he called a "must-see" gambling palace.
30 March 1993
Several casino board members ask city officals to delay finalizing the Rivergate lease with Hemmeter to give the board time to select the operator; the city refused citing financial concerns and fears that state lawmakers may change the casino law.
15 April 1993
The New Orleans City Council approved Hemmeter's lease of the Rivergate.
27 April 1993
Mayor Barthelemy and Chris Hemmeter signed an historic lease giving Hemmeter the exclusive right to build a casino at the Rivergate site.
29 April 1993
The casino board adopted a request for proposals to operate the planned casino at the Rivergate.
4 June 1993
The board received proposals from two companies: Hemmeter/Grand Palais Casino Inc. (which teamed with Caesars), and Harrah's Jazz Co., a joint venture of Harrah's Casino Hotels and the Jazzville group of ten south Louisiana attorneys and businessmen headed by Wendell Gauthier, Metairie, Louisiana attorney.
19 July 1993
State Attorney General Richard Ieyoub said parts of the financial compensation package of both proposals were illegal.
20 July 1993
The casino board tossed out both proposals and called for new bids.
21 July 1993
The board adopted a new and improved request for proposals to operate the casino at the Rivergate site.
2 August 1993
Grand Palais and Harrah's Jazz were again the only bidders.
6 August 1993
The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state casino act except for a provision that said casino board employees were exempt from civil service regulations.
11 August 1993
The casino board voted five to four to give Harrah's Jazz preliminary approval to operate a casino at the Rivergate, selecting its proposal to renovate the Rivergate into a 120,000 square-foot casino over Grand Palais' plan to demolish the convention hall and erect a 300,000 square-foot gambling palace; Hemmeter said he respected the board's decision and would not go to court.
12 August 1993
Victorious Harrah's Jazz officials said that they wanted to buy out Hemmeter's lease of the Rivergate; they did not want him to have a major equity stake in the Rivergate casino project.
16 August 1993
Hemmeter said his sixty-year Rivergate lease was not for sale; he wanted a fifty percent share of the project.
18 August 1993
Edwards met with Harrah's Jazz and Grand Palais officials at the Governor's Mansion but reported little progress in the lease negotiations.
20 August 1993
Hemmeter, contrary to what he said on 11 August, asked the casino board to reverse its decision and asked separate state district courts to throw out the board's decision.
25 August 1993
Gov. Edwards performed a "shot-gun" wedding between the Harrah's Jazz group and Hemmeter's Grand Palais group.
8 November 1993
Riverboat casino gambling began with the opening of the Star on Lake Pontchartrain.
11 November 1993
A state ethics panel ordered Edwards' four children to stop doing business with riverboat related firms but levied no penalties; one business had been operated out of the Governor's Mansion.
16 November 1993
Grand jury in East Baton Rouge Parish began probe of gambling, particularly Gov. Edwards' children's dealings with riverboats. Edwards and other important figures testified.
17 December 1993
The state's first land-based casino, run by the Chitimacha tribe in rural St. Mary Parish, opened to big crowds.
31 May 1994
Authorities arrested seventeen people, including alleged high-ranking members of organized crime families in New York and New Orleans; they were accused of skimming profits from the Louisiana video poker industry.
30 September 1994
The first of two riverboats opened in Baton Rouge; over the next several months boats engaged in periodic battles with district attorney Doug Moreau over whether and when they must cruise.
13 January (Friday The 13th) 1995
Beginning of the demolition of the Rivergate.
1 May 1995
Long-delayed "temporary" land-based casino opened in New Orleans; revenues were far lower than predicted; long-delayed permanent casino set to open in June 1996.
Harrah's spent $41 million to transform the Municipal Auditorium (erected in 1930) into the "temporary" casino: 76,000 square feet, 3,096 slot machines, and 90 gambling tables. Predictions: 10,000 daily gamblers, $395 million earnings for the first twelve months, $33 million a month gross gambling revenue, 3,100 employees.
21 August 1995
FBI made public documents alleging a massive probe of political corruption, mostly involving the gambling industry.
18 September 1995
Trial set for defendants in video poker skimming case.
21 November 1995 (one day before Thanksgiving holidays)
Harrah's closed the "temporary" casino at the Municipal Auditorium, and halted all construction of the permament casino at the Rivergate site; 3,000 jobs lost; Harrah's filed for bankruptcy.
1993 Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) 25 August.
1995 Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 27 August.
1995 Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 22 November.