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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Charitable Giving: Harrah's Rejoins Local Push

11 July 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- After stepping away for almost a year to concentrate on helping its hurricane-affected employees, Harrah's Entertainment will again take part in the United Way of Southern Nevada's fundraising efforts.

Harrah's, which operates seven casinos in Las Vegas and one in Laughlin, expects to launch a companywide campaign to support the United Way next month.

"We're working with Harrah's to help with their message to employees and how they want to roll out the program," United Way of Southern Nevada President Dan Goulet said Monday. "Once (Harrah's) returns, I'm sure (the company) will be one of our top five contributors."

Harrah's planned reappearance is good news to the United Way, which lost several major gaming contributors over the last few years. Some companies, such as MGM Mirage, began steering employee charitable contributions to the company's Voice Foundation in 2002. Corporate mergers, such as Harrah's $9 billion buyout of the Caesars Entertainment a year ago, removed other companies from the process.

"When there is a corporate consolidation, we usually feel effects for about a year," Goulet said.

In 2004, Harrah's and Caesars gave a combined $545,000 to the United Way, which had total contributions that year of $10.4 million.

The Las Vegas-based casino operator withdrew from the United Way's efforts last September to focus on helping its employees in Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita heavily damaged Harrah's four Gulf Coast casinos, displacing more than 7,500 employees, last fall. Three of the casinos were destroyed and only Harrah's New Orleans has since reopened.

Harrah's asked its employees nationwide to donate to the company's hurricane relief effort, which was seeded with a $1 million contribution by the Harrah's Foundation.

With donations from employees, customers, and vendors -- including $2.1 million raised during a February benefit concert at Caesars Palace that featured performances from Celine Dion, Elton John and Jerry Seinfeld -- the company collected $6.6 million, which was donated to 6,300 employees who applied for the assistance.

Many of the Harrah's workers lost homes, automobiles and other possessions in the hurricanes.

"Essentially, the relief effort helped employees rebuild their lives," Harrah's spokesman Alberto Lopez said. "The money allowed employees to buy food, clothing and shelter. In some cases, they even bought cars. It really helped people get back on their feet."

Lopez said companies doing business with Harrah's also contributed to the effort, some with donations as much as $200,000.

In a statement, Harrah's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman said the contributions, "have helped thousands of our colleagues start down the path of recovery."

In addition to the relief fund, Harrah's paid salaries to its displaced employees for 90 days and allowed several hundred workers to transfer to open jobs at other Harrah's casinos.

Harrah's plans to reopen a portion of the Grand Casino in Biloxi, Miss., this summer.

"We are committed to the Gulf Coast, and look forward to expanding our presence in New Orleans and Biloxi in the years to come," Loveman said.

Charitable Giving: Harrah's Rejoins Local Push is republished from