Are Casinos New Orleans' Future?

Oct 8, 2005
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The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, said yesterday that to help revive his city's economy he'd like to expand casino gambling in the city's major hotels. The plan has many obstacles to overcome, from state backing to popular support. NPR's Jan--Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Nagin said the city needed a, quote, "bold vision" to demonstrate to the rest of the nation and the world that New Orleans was on the rebound. Casino expansion, said the mayor, had the advantage of building on the city's trade: tourism. His plan would restrict gambling to a downtown zone that's already the location for most of the major hotels.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): And in that zone, hotels that have 500 rooms or more would be allowed to convert into a full-fledged casino. They wouldn't just be allowed to do slot machines. They would have to make a significant investment.

JAFFE: Nagin said the plan could generate $150 million in taxes annually, which he said would be split 50-50 between the city and the state. But there are a lot of hurdles to get over. First is the history of gambling in Louisiana, which has been tainted by cronyism and political corruption. Nagin would also have to get approval from the state and make a deal with Harrah's casino, which right now has an exclusive on gambling in the city. Finally, the mayor's plan would require a popular vote. Nagin insisted he was not trying to turn New Orleans, one of the world's unique cities, into a clone of Las Vegas.

Mayor NAGIN: Las Vegas has casinos. New Orleans has so much: culture, Bourbon Street, food, Mardi Gras Indians--you know, you name it, we have it. To me this is just enhancing what we have and creating some excitement around our rebuild.

JAFFE: Nagin also proposed a variety of tax breaks and other incentives to encourage job creation at the Port of New Orleans and boost medical and pharmaceutical research.

Meanwhile, out on New Orleans' levees, there was another announcement that could have a major impact on the future of the city. Government and independent engineers have been investigating why three levees failed in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, flooding 80 percent of the city. At first the Army Corps of Engineers said they thought the storm surge had overtopped the concrete flood walls, washing them out from behind. But in a briefing at the 17th Street Canal, Peter Nicholson, head of a team from the American Society of Engineers, said there was no sign either there or along the London Street Canal that the storm surge ever came over the top. Instead, Nicholson says, they believe the earthen levees at these two locations failed and their soil washed into nearby neighborhoods.

Mr. PETER NICHOLSON (American Society of Engineers): Our observations are essentially that the soil that initially was part of the levee and near the levee crest had been displayed. And we see that clearly at some distance from the levee. We see that it has been displayed, but we don't know how it got there and why.

JAFFE: The engineering teams are trying to determine whether faulty design, bad construction or other factors contributed to the levee failures, failures which ultimately are responsible for the flooding of New Orleans, billions of dollars in damages, and the loss of so many lives.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.