NEW ORLEANS CASINO LOOKING LIKE A SURE BET

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 1992
Edition: THIRD
Section: NATIONAL
Page: A1
Dateline: BATON ROUGE
Byline: By ED ANDERSON and JACK WARDLAW Capital bureau

Correction: CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: In an article Wednesday about the naming of New Orleans area legislators to state House committees, The Times-Picayune omitted the appointment of Garey Forster, R-New Orleans, to the Ways and Means Committee.

DATE OF PUBLICATION: Thursday, January 23, 1992

Text:

The odds favor legalization of a single gambling casino in New Orleans in this year's Legislature, key lawmakers said Tuesday.

The time seems ripe for casino legislation because Gov. Edwards supports a bill and officials in New Orleans, which played a major role in electing Edwards in November, want a casino. Furthermore, the gambling opposition has been crumbling, with the Legislature last year legalizing riverboat casinos and video poker machines. Former Gov. Buddy Roemer's re-election defeat in the fall removed the major casino opponent from the picture.

But key casino issues remain unresolved, including the question of the extent to which food and drink will be available in the casino. Restaurant interests will oppose any bill that would put the casino in competition with them, insiders said, just as hotel interests would fight any bill permitting Las Vegas-type hotel-casinos. Some opposition is also expected from other gambling interests, such as the horse racing industry and riverboat gambling proponents.

Another issue will be who will get the tax revenue generated by the casino, which Edwards estimates will exceed $250 million a year. New Orleans city officials want that revenue, but most legislators said it is unlikely that a casino bill will pass unless state government gets a major share.

There also might be some disagreement on the number of casinos permitted. But Rep. Sherman Copelin, D-New Orleans, a key player in pushing the casino bill, said Tuesday he will oppose any proposal providing for more than one casino.

Edwards declined Tuesday to discuss details of the plan, saying that they will be worked out by New Orleans interests.

"I'm going to wait and see what the mayor, the City Council and the New Orleans lawmakers come up with," Edwards said. "If they can get together on some kind of bill that I think is appropriate and has the proper safeguards in it, I'll do what I can to help them pass it."

Rep. Raymond "LaLa" Lalonde, D-Sunset, who was named Tuesday by House Speaker John Alario to chair the Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice, which will hear the bill, predicted that a one-casino bill will be approved, with some of the revenue going to New Orleans.

"This is the year to do it," said Lalonde. "I haven't counted the votes and we have 35 new members (in the House), some of whom will be against it."

"But we need just 53 votes in the House to adopt a casino bill, while the lottery bill (which Lalonde played a key role in passing) needed 70 votes. . . . I think we have the best shot this year." Lalonde and other lawmakers said they think the key vote will occur on the House floor, with the Senate more likely to go along with Edwards' and New Orleans' wishes.

Lalonde said he expects that if a bill passes, a casino would set up shop within a year in The Rivergate, the city-owned convention hall between Poydras and Canal streets near the Mississippi River. It has been the most frequently mentioned site for a gaming house in New Orleans.

Alario said the chances of a casino bill getting through the House are good, "but that is not a given."

As announced by Alario, Lalonde's committee has six members, only two of whom are committed on the gambling issue. One is Lalonde, a proponent, while the vice chairman, Donald Ray Kennard, D-Baton Rouge, is an opponent.

"I've always voted against casino gambling," Kennard said. "I'll vote against it again this year. But I have no doubt that they have the votes to pass it."


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