Published: Monday, February 10, 1992
Edition: THIRD
Page: A1
Byline: By FRANK DONZE Staff writer


Mayor Sidney Barthelemy thinks this may be the year for his dream of a single gambling casino for New Orleans' Central Business District.

"The chances are good and they're getting better day by day," Barthelemy said of a proposal he has advocated since he was a city councilman campaigning for mayor in 1985.

With a pro-gambling Gov. Edwards and a Legislature looking for ways to eliminate a huge budget deficit, Barthelemy said the time appears right for the concept to win approval from lawmakers.

Barthelemy's plan calls for one casino on the site of the Rivergate at the foot of Canal Street.

But some tourism industry leaders fear that once the first casino is approved, casinos will multiply in New Orleans.

Barthelemy, who plans to outline his plan tonight at the New Orleans Convention Center, said he will address that fear in the next few months, pledging to support efforts to place the one-casino limit into the state Constitution.

If necessary, he said, he would have similar protections put in the City Charter.

Barthelemy said the proposal he plans to submit to the Legislature will limit development of a casino in New Orleans to the Rivergate site.

He said a casino would complement nearby attractions such as the Riverwalk shopping mall, the Aquarium of the Americas and the riverfront streetcar line - attractions which have helped boost the city's image as a prime tourist destination.

New Orleans attracts more than 7 million tourists each year, Barthelemy said, and a casino will increase those numbers substantially, creating thousands of jobs and bringing in millions of new tax dollars.

Barthelemy said he envisions a company with experience in the gambling industry either renovating the Rivergate to accommodate a casino or tearing it down and constructing a new building. The operator would lease the land and pay the city and the state a percentage of its profits. Those percentages remain to be determined.

Barthelemy said representatives of several Las Vegas and Atlantic City gambling operations have told him they are interested in running a New Orleans casino but proposals won't be considered until the Legislature approves the plan.

New Orleans area legislators and members of the mayor's staff are crafting the language for the casino legislation. A draft is expected to be ready later this month - well ahead of the March 30 start of the 1992 session of the Legislature.

Other aspects of Barthelemy's proposal include:

No hotel rooms or major restaurants on the site of the casino. Most tourism leaders have demanded this provision to ensure that gamblers patronize existing hotels and restaurants.

Limited operating hours, with gambling possibly suspended from 5 a.m. to noon.

A dress code, but not the black-tie-only rules that one or two exclusive European casinos enforce.

Big-name entertainment at the casino.

Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.