Harrah's Sambas Into Mardi Gras Opening - Wednesday 22nd of February 2006


NEW ORLEANS…Mardi Gras has kicked off in New Orleans just about six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated this historic and wonderfully old city in conjunction with the simultaneous re-opening of Harrah's Casino here. The event, ushered in by the pulsating beat of a samba band, brought a sense of hope that the city was really on its way back to a promising future even though the recovery has been laden with problems.

Only blocks away, several of the Mardi Gras's 28 parades got the good times rolling again with traffic blocking processions that wended their way through oak-lined streets that were spared much of the inundation and into the French Quarter. It is almost as if this is a tale of two cities: the downtown business district and Quarter recovered and were doing their business nearly as usual, and the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward which bore the brunt of the flooding leaving thousands of homes and buildings smashed and abandoned.

But as the sun drove away the early morning mist from the nearby Mississippi River its warming rays provided a perfect setting for a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by hundreds of eager gamblers, city officials, invited guests, and a phalanx of media. The event was more than a standard ribbon cutting: it signified that it was time for tourists, the life-blood of this city, to safely return. It was time to party.

Council-person At Large, Oliver Thomas, put it all in perspective. "This opening is a full house, a royal flush, it is time to go 'all in' and Harrah's is doing just that. They have proven to be a great partner for this city, just ask the 1,500 they put back to work," he said.

Following the noisy and colorful ceremony where scantily-clad young female dancers wiggled in their best imitation of the famed Samba schools of Rio de Janeiro, Anthony Sanfilippo, president of Harrah's Central Division, told Jackpot that getting the casino up and running had been a priority for the company and it was only accomplished by intense effort and dedication of not only Team Members but a hand-in-hand effort working with city government, community leaders, vendors and other business partners who all understood the importance of bringing tourism back to the city to rebuild he economy.

"Mardi Gras is a very good time for the city to invite visitors to come and see that New Orleans is open and ready to receive tourists. Were determined to be a part of that invitation and to help deliver the fun and excitement that people expect when they arrive," he said.

Gary Loveman, chief executive officer and president of Harrah's Entertainment, Inc., visited the casino just before the opening to personally welcome back about 1,500 employees. He told them…"New Orleans deserves your support. I think all Americans looking at what happened here, if they have a chance to do so, owe the people of New Orleans a visit. And they will be grateful for it."

The huge 115,000 square foot rambling land-based casino, shut its doors just before Katrina made landfall near the city on August 29 and though it was storm-damaged, Harrah's was used by first responders as a base of operations in the hectic days following the storm. All the damage to the casino's vital electronic systems, gaming devices and other infrastructure was completed in about six months and it opened on Feb. 17 and played to a full house that night.

"Our casino has always reflected those things that people associate with New Orleans and expect when they visit: great food and entertainment, lots of fun, more than a little excitement and even a bit of mystique," he said.

The future here for Harrah's looks even more promising as the long-awaited hotel rooms it has needed will soon be opening on adjacent Poydras Street where a $150 million, 450-room, 26-story hotel is moving toward a September opening.

With its ideal location, at the foot of Canal Street, just one block from the famous French Quarter and only a block away from the historic warehouse district, numerous art galleries, museums, and the massive convention center, Harrah's is poised not just for comeback but for a position as a dominant player in this city's vital $300 million generating tourist industry.

As one gamer told this reporter…"I lost my entire house and this has been an extremely heard-rending and trying time for not only me and my family but for thousands on thousands of my fellow New Orleanians. But it is time for this city to show its resilience, to rebuild for the future. We won't go away, we will back. That is a promise."

Laissez le bon temps rouler.

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