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Harrah’s New Orleans blames smoking ban for revenue decline

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Harrah’s New Orleans Casino claims a new citywide smoking ban is to blame for a 16 percent decline in its revenue this month compared to a year ago.

The casino says it had more visitors in May than it did in the same month last year, but its gambling revenue dropped from $28.8 million to $24.1 million, the New Orleans Advocate (http://bit.ly/1GwcXcP ) reports. The state released its monthly casino revenue report Monday.

The casino also said the numbers for the last nine days in April were down 15 percent after remaining steady until the ban went into effect April 22.

“We are currently experiencing greater declines from our local business, while casinos in surrounding jurisdictions are enjoying record highs,” Harrah’s spokeswoman Jade Brown Russell said.

She said the slot-machine revenue is being hit disproportionately hard.

For visitors to the casino, the impact of the smoking ban is no surprise. Erin Shirley a former New Orleans resident in town to play the slots with a friend, said smokers are now forced to leave the casino periodically, interrupting game play.

“Once you’re playing, you don’t want to leave. You don’t go back to the same spot, usually, and that’s the problem,” Shirley said. “Our chances of leaving Harrah’s definitely increase because we have to come out to smoke.”

Shirley said she also noticed she and her friend were counted every time they returned to the floor.

Harrah’s was a vocal critic of the smoking ban passed unanimously by the New Orleans City Council in January, warning its revenue might drop by as much as 20 percent.

Harrah’s lobbyists later worked the Legislature to pressure the city to back off the ban. Harrah’s was one of more than 50 companies that sued the city a few days before the ban went into effect. The company later pulled out of the lawsuit.

State regulators reported in December the state stood to lose just over $100 million in revenue and fees over two years from Harrah’s, the Fair Grounds racetrack and video poker halls if the ban passed.

Washington Times Online