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Lawmaker says NO not getting fair share of casino reimbursement funds - WWL

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Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- Tens of millions of dollars, down the drain. That's how much one lawmaker believes New Orleans has lost out on since Harrah's Casino opened.

Rep. Walt Leger, D- New Orleans, said that's because the state doesn't always live up to its contractual

obligation. Since the casino opened, it's been a toss up each year whether the state would reimburse the city for the support services it provides Harrah's.  

“There have been times when we have been reimbursed as we should, but more often than not we've either been reimbursed with less than the ($3.6 million) that we're entitled to, or nothing at all,” said state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

When Harrah's opened more than a decade ago, the state promised to pay New Orleans up to $3.6 million every year. The money is designed to reimburse the city for providing services related to the casino, like police, fire and sanitation.

But Leger said there have been times when the state hasn't honored the contract, and New Orleans lost out on millions of dollars. According to Leger, it happened just last year.

“When budget times are difficult and every penny counts, it's difficult for the city of New Orleans to have to bear the brunt of providing those services,” Leger said.

Leger said Harrah’s pays its fair share to the state every year, but it’s up to the legislature to make sure the city gets what its owed.

Now, Leger is introducing a bill to help make sure that happens. It would create a separate "Casino Support Services Fund" that would guarantee the city can cash in on the money its owed, before those dollars get funneled into the state's general fund.

“It's very important that the city have at its disposal every penny that it's entitled to have,” Leger said. “There's a contractual obligation.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the same bill last year, saying that money was already allocated for higher education. He said, “At a time of declining revenues, we should be working together to increase our flexibility in the budget process to protect education and health care instead of increasing the portion of revenues that are dedicated."

But Leger points out, not paying up means not honoring a contract.

“I think it's unfair that this money is generated here, that our local government, our municipal government, goes to great expense to make sure that there's safety there and that the casino can operate the way that it needs to for the benefit of all people in Louisiana, but that we have to bear that whole burden alone.”

City officials said they're working with the governor's office to get the money that's owed from last year on top of this year's expenses.

They say the city actually spends more than $3.6 million a year on casino-related services, but that's the maximum reimbursement they're able to get.




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