CAPITULATION OR TRIUMPH?

Published: Sunday, July 17, 1994
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B7
Column: JAMES GILL
Type: OPINION
Byline: By JAMES GILL

Text:

Although there was much to admire, for a while, in Mayor Marc Morial's stance on the casino, and notwithstanding the extravagant praise that has been heaped on his head, surely he showed a white feather at the end.

Gov. Edwards up and congratulates Morial on the deal he struck Thursday night - a tip-off right there that there must be plenty wrong with it.

In fact, we are pretty well where we were before - preparing to put the city's soul in jeopardy without any guarantee of the jobs and money that were supposed to console us for the intrusion.

Morial talked for most of last week like Edward G. Robinson with a sore head, but it all turned out to be bluster. The best he can do now is to put a brave face on his capitulation by announcing that he has managed to get $22 million to pay for the extra burdens the casino will impose on city services.

Edwards had said he would get the Legislature to spring for $6 million, and Harrah's weighed in with the purest moonshine, offering to toss in $2 million provided its revenues reached a highly unlikely $700 million a year. They're all heart, those guys.

When Morial announced a settlement had been reached, it seemed on the surface that our tough-guy mayor had netted an additional $16 million for the city.

It ain't necessarily so, however, and the deal is good, in any case, only for the first year. After that, with the temporary casino presumably up, running and unstoppable, the city will be dependent on the tender mercies of Harrah's and the state. Not an enviable position.

The much-ballyhooed $22 million for the first year, moreover, is $10 million less than the mayor had said the city needed. And it is not exactly money in the bank.

The state will provide the $6 million promised earlier, but only if the casino board and both House and Senate agree. Lord Edwards of Las Vegas predicts that they will, but then he is hardly likely to say anything else.

The New Orleans partners in Harrah's have promised $4 million in ready money, which is the only sure thing in the deal. The balance of $12 million is slated to come from 30-year bonds for which the taxpayers of New Orleans will be responsible.

Harrah's will pay off the bonds to the tune of $1.25 million a year so long as casino revenues exceed $400 million a year. Everyone at City Hall and Harrah's says that is a sure thing, but they could be talking through their hats.

Nobody can be certain a land casino, facing competition from dockside gambling in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, video poker, lotteries, horseracing and bingo will be as profitable as advertised.

It is entirely possible that when 2023 rolls round, the citizenry will still be paying for services rendered by firefighters and police officers in the first year of the casino era.

City officials say they can buy insurance to cover that contingency, but, even if they do, it won't come cheap.

Meanwhile, we continue to wait for some guarantee that the land casino will mean jobs for city residents.

Harrah's operating contract with the state does not require the employment of any local people, minorities or otherwise.

Its Rivergate lease with the city does impose a hiring quota, which is entirely useless because it exceeds limits set by state law. The City Council now proposes to make the lease legal by removing any mandate to hire locals.

The jobs issue got lost in the shuffle last week and yet, for this deal, Morial is apparently thought worthy of a triumphal procession through the city. Someone is pulling our leg.

James Gill is a staff writer.

Illustration: Mayor Morial: Was it really a victory for the city?

FILE PHOTO



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