Published: Wednesday, December 6, 1989
Byline: By BRUCE EGGLER Staff writer
Projections that a gambling casino would attract millions of new visitors a year to New Orleans and create as many as 50,000 jobs are highly inflated, opponents told a legislative committee Tuesday at the Rivergate.
The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice ended a two-day hearing on a casino bill with testimony from opponents.
Supporters, including gambling experts from Las Vegas, Nev., and Atlantic City, N.J., told the committee Monday that the Rivergate would make an ideal home for a casino that could produce 4,000 to 8,000 jobs there and 25,000 to 40,000 jobs at other tourism-related businesses.
But Tuesday's principal witness, Warren C. de Brueys, said that chances are good the casino would "go belly-up in six to nine months."
De Brueys recently retired as managing director of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission, a private, non-profit group that has opposed gambling in all forms for 37 years.
The hearing was on a bill by Rep. Terry Gee, R-Algiers, authorizing a single casino in New Orleans, probably in the Rivergate, for a five-year trial period.
The state would lease the Rivergate or another building to a private operator, who would convert it to a casino at his expense. Bidding probably would be limited to companies that already operate casinos in Nevada or New Jersey.
Unlike casinos in Atlantic City, the New Orleans casino would not be part of a hotel also offering entertainment shows and meals. Gamblers would have to eat, sleep, shop and seek entertainment elsewhere.
But de Brueys said that without an associated hotel, a New Orleans casino could not offer the free or low-cost rooms, meals, liquor and entertainment that are major draws in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
In addition, he said, a New Orleans casino would have a smaller population to draw from than Atlantic City, which is near Philadelphia and New York City, and Las Vegas, which draws heavily from Southern California.
"There are serious questions in my mind whether a free-standing casino would be a viable economic venture in this city," he said.
De Brueys also said casinos have not proved an economic boon to Atlantic City, which he said lost 700 businesses after casinos opened in 1978. The casinos "changed a depressed area to total blight," he said.
But de Brueys, a former FBI agent, devoted most of his testimony to what he said would be inevitable increases in both street crime and organized crime if a casino opens in New Orleans.
He said the crime rate in Las Vegas often ranks in the top four among 300 U.S. metropolitan areas. Felony crimes in the Atlantic City area increased 252 percent during the first six years of casino operations, boosting the area from 50th in the nation in crime in 1977 to No. 1 in 1981-84, he said.
Casino supporters admitted Monday that crime rose sharply in Atlantic City but said that occurs whenever millions of visitors are drawn to an area, whether for gambling, an amusement park or any other tourist attraction. Considering the number of new tourists in Atlantic City since 1977, they said, crime did not increase per capita.
But de Brueys said most Atlantic City gamblers go directly from their cars or buses to the casinos for a few hours of gambling and then leave immediately, so they are never exposed to most street crimes. "It's residents who must cope with the increase in crime," he said.
De Brueys also challenged claims by gambling proponents that organized crime no longer plays a role in running the Las Vegas casinos.
De Brueys' testimony drew fire from Rep. Emile "Peppi" Bruneau, R-New Orleans. He said de Brueys' remarks were filled with innuendo, non-sequiturs and unsupported charges.
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