Belle Of Orleans Rolling Craps?

Supreme Court of Louisiana rejects latest suit for control of riverboat casino

The three-year fight for the Belle of Orleans Casino may be nearing its final rounds. Belle of Orleans is a 30,000 square-foot riverboat casino that reported $89.75 million in sales for 2000.

On October 16, 2001, the Supreme Court of Louisiana dismissed a suit by Metro Riverboat Associates, disputing the transfer of gaming licenses from Hilton Hotels Corp. to Park Place Entertainment.

Metro Riverboat is controlled by Norbert Simmons, an African American businessman. Metro owns 50.1% of Belle of Orleans Casino (No. 37 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $89.75 million in revenue). This leaves Metro with few remaining options while it tries to gain managerial control of the casino. Bally’s Louisiana (owned by the Hilton Hotels Corp.) owns the remaining 49.9% of Orleans.

Documents filed with the Supreme Court of Louisiana state that Metro claimed the Louisiana Gaming Control Board acted improperly when, in 1998, it approved a license transfer from Hilton Hotels Corp. to Park Place Entertainment. Metro filed a petition contesting the suit, stating that the gaming board acted illegally because there was no public hearing, and the suitability of Park Place had not been established. Hearings are usually held to determine suitability before a transfer is approved.

But Assistant State Attorney General Rand Dennis contends that no public hearing was needed because all of the casino officials at Hilton that transferred to Park Place were already deemed suitable by a Louisiana district court to conduct gambling business in Louisiana. Only officials who come aboard later would have to pass suitability checks. However, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a hearing should have taken place, therefore, the case headed to the state’s Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s decision.

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board was pleased with the state Supreme Court’s decision. “If anyone had a dispute, they could request a legislative hearing. This would apply to anyone in the industry who came across someone they did not like [to do business with],” says Lana Tramonte, a spokesperson for the regulatory agency. “This decision upholds our authority.”

Neither Norbert Simmons nor his attorneys would return telephone calls, but with casinos everywhere suffering in this weakened economy, the question is whether Metro can afford to continue the fight. -

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