Harrah's and French Quarter bars sue the City of New Orleans in smoking ban dispute


Harrah's Casino and many French Quarter bars and clubs have filed a suit against the City of New Orleans to halt the impending smoking ban set to take effect April 22. The suit was filed in Civil District Court, which has set a hearing date for the case on May 21. The court, however, denied Harrah's request for a restraining order that aimed to stop the ordinance before it was to take effect.

With no immediate barriers in its way, the smoke-free ordinance — which imposes smoke-free rules in all bars and casinos and public places — will go into effect this Wednesday. City officials — including ordinance author and District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, Health Department Director Charlotte Parent, and health advocates within the Smoke-Free New Orleans Coalition — will host a press conference that morning to celebrate the new law.

Harrah's has pushed for a compromise measure to allow smoking in parts of its casino and has threatened to renegotiate the terms of its lease with the city if the ban persists. Harrah's also warned that fewer smokers in the casino could create a revenue shortfall that would trickle-down to police and fire protection, education, and loss of employees. As first reported by The New Orleans Advocate's Jeff Adelson, Harrah's joined more than 50 businesses, including Pat O'Briens, Tropical Isle, Court of Two Sisters, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, Bombay Club, and many others, in filing a suit to throw out the ban.

French Quarter Business League president Alex Fine says despite the City Council's efforts to listen to their pleas, it did not fully "consider the ramifications of any ban that is passed," including an anticipated 20 percent drop in revenue among businesses, according to Fine. "They gave us the opportunity but did not take enough time to analyze the data and come to a conclusion that is fair to everybody," he said, adding that the council has not made plans to offset the loss. "They never vetted that completely, and that's why we're here," Fine said. 

Without a restraining order to hold back the smoke-free laws until the suit is resolved, Harrah's and New Orleans bars will have a month of experience under the law before they head to court.

"We've been preparing for any outcome, whether it goes into effect or we have to delay," Fine said.

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