A ten-year court battle
A Baton Rouge appeals court has ruled in favor of the state of Louisiana in a tax case involving Harrah’s New Orleans.
The case began in 2010 after the Louisiana Department of Revenue (LDR) claimed that Harrah’s New Orleans owed back taxes on hotel rooms. The casino, owned by Caesars Entertainment, argued that under state law it should be exempt from paying sales and occupancy taxes on certain hotel rooms.
Harrah’s will be required to pay back the taxes dating back to 2001
The court has now ruled in favor of the LDR, meaning Harrah’s will be required to pay back the taxes dating back to 2001. Caesars and Harrah’s have reportedly reserved $40m to repay the funds. The amount of taxes at stake is estimated to be between $30m and $50m.
The finer details of the case
Harrah’s argument stems from its agreement with the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association. The operator argued that this partnership superseded any tax requirements of the LDR, and therefore made complimentary rooms non-taxable. In contrast, the LDR argued that Harrah’s should still pay the required 9% tax on hotel rooms regardless of any agreement.
Ultimately, the First Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the 2019 decision made by 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant. The ruling stated that the LDR’s right to the missing taxes was “clear and unambiguous.”
operator still has the option to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court
The operator still has the option to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, but this court only agrees to hear a small number of cases. The operator can also file a request with the First Circuit Court of Appeal for it to reconsider its decision. A trial is scheduled for September to determine the exact amount owed if the ruling remains unchanged.
Pandemic struggles for Louisiana casinos
Louisiana’s casino market has struggled so far in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Casinos in Louisiana were officially permitted to reopen on May 18 following a nine-week period of closures.
gross gaming revenue for New Orleans casinos was $25.6m for June
According to data from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, gross gaming revenue for New Orleans casinos was $25.6m for June, a drop of 43% year-on-year. Harrah’s New Orleans reported a 75% decrease in revenue, generating $5.6m in the 18 days it was open in June. Riverboat casinos in New Orleans felt less of an impact. Overall revenue for the market’s three riverboat casinos totaled $18.1m for June, a drop of 20% from 2019.
Earlier this month, Penn National Gaming announced that nearly 1,150 casino workers would be laid off from four Louisiana casinos in August as a result of losses. According to notices filed with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, around 161 workers are going to be let go from L’Auberge Hotel and Casino in Baton Rouge, while 441 employees will be let go from L’Auberge Lake Charles Casino.