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The Dripby Fern Shen2:52 pmOct 16, 20120

Inside City Hall: Council breaks bread with casino execs

A Harrah’s briefing about an apparently inevitable casino, over salmon and salad.

Above: Caesars president John Payne (far right) and other company officials briefed the city council about Harrah’s Baltimore yesterday.

A contingent from Caesars joined the Baltimore City Council for lunch yesterday – a meal Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake kicked off by saying there had recently been an “intentional campaign” to mislead the public about the Harrah’s Baltimore casino the group says they’ll open in 2014.

“The public” at these monthly luncheons (hosted by the mayor) is represented by the media – reporters who are asked to stand silently in the small space between the wall and the long table where council members, staff and guests sit and eat their food.

So it was left to the Council to ask the questions and they did so with a sour tone, as one might expect at the prospect of a building housing 3,750 slot machines whose construction on Russell Street is an apparent inevitability.

“Can you give me an example of what kind of intervention programs you are going to have in place” for people with gambling addiction, asked City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, barely looking up from his plate.

Councilmember Sharon Green Middleton got out what she called a “sustainability” question, asking “are you partnering with any agencies that promote bicycling?”

There were some initial blank looks from the Caesars Entertainment Corp. executives standing at the front and laughter in the room (perhaps at the idea of high rollers rolling over to the casino on their bikes).

But Caesars Entertainment president John Payne and his team answered, saying that, yes, accommodations would be made for cyclists. And, as for gambling addicts, they said casino employees would be trained to recognize “the very small number” of problem gamblers they might encounter. Next question?

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Informing the executives that “we have a lot of unemployment here,” Councilwoman Helen Holton took up the subject of hiring quotas and asked the Caesars people if they would commit to employing “X percentage” of city residents to work at the casino.

Yes, came the answer but there were no values offered for “X.”

Asked by The Brew afterwards, Payne said they would hire local residents as they had at their casinos in New Orleans and Cleveland. They later emailed with some specifics:

About 51% of employees at Harrah’s New Orleans live in Orleans parish (pre-Katrina it was 65%), according to the company. In Cleveland, they said, 90 percent of the employees come from the five-county Cleveland area.

(We’ve asked them to tell us what percentage live inside the Cleveland city line.)

What about training programs, Holton asked. Future Harrah’s Baltimore General Manager Chad Barnhill answered enthusiastically that prospective employees don’t need experience and will be trained:

“We’re going to hire for attitude!” Barnhill said. “We’re going to hire people who can smile!”

Question of Question 7

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke brought up Question 7, the statewide ballot measure facing voters next month that would allow table games and a sixth casino in Prince George’s County, at either Rosecroft Raceway or National Harbor.

“There are a limited number of people who will go to a casino,” Clarke said. “I see it as a problem, I see it as competition.” Payne said they’re not worried.

“We’re comfortable that we’re going to build a world class casino that will attract people not only regionally but nationally,” he said, with the city’s pro-Question 7 mayor sitting beside him.

Payne et al offered some new details about the project, such as the possibility that it would include a special event center that might boxing matches and Mixed Martial Arts fights.

If Question 7 passed, though, Payne said the facility would be bigger and would host the Caesars-owned World Series of Poker tour. The company would spend $25 million more on the building, south of M&T Bank Stadium – increasing its total investment to $400 million, Payne said.

He argued that the casino, with or without table games, would benefit the city by attracting tourists. “The casino business grew up in the suburbs,” he said, “but the industry is learning how to integrate in cities.”

See Gerald Neily’s Brew story on how to tie the casino to the rest of Baltimore.

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