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Gaming Guru

Arnold M. Knightly
 

Harrah's accused of neglecting inner city Las Vegas

23 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Harrah's Entertainment, which is about to be taken private in a $17.1 billion buyout, has broken promises to the local black community and is not doing enough economically for the struggling inner city, a group of activists from west Las Vegas told gaming regulators Wednesday.

Stanley Washington, who identified himself as a community activist, urged the state Gaming Commission to take a harder look at the gaming company's track record with minority hiring, awarding of construction contracts and investment in the area when the gaming company comes before the board next month.

Private-equity firms Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Management are scheduled to appear before the state Gaming Control Board and the state Gaming Commission next month in Carson City to seek approval of the buyout.

Washington told the board he has not been successful in trying to talk to David Bonderman, founding partner of Texas Pacific, and Leon Black, founding partner of Apollo, ahead of next month's meetings.

He said the meetings would be to make the new owners aware of the poor economic conditions in west Las Vegas, just a few miles away from where gaming companies are spending billions of dollars on new projects.

"They are coming to our state to get a privileged license in a $17 billion transaction," Washington said. "We want to sit with them and show them firsthand what's taking place in a part of the community that we believe they don't know about."

Fred Keeton, Harrah's vice president of external affairs and chief diversity officer, said Washington is wrong about the gaming company's commitment to diversity issues.

"We made a commitment to the Gaming Commission June 10, 2005 (during the hearing for the Caesars Entertainment buyout) to really engage in the community in a high-level way," he said. "To really focus on doing those things through organizations that allow us to have the broad-brush impact in the community."

Keeton also said that no one from the Urban League, the Urban Chamber, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or other organizations were at the meeting standing with Washington.

"All those organizations are in the west and we very vehemently support them," Keeton said. "We support the work they actually do in the west."

Gaming companies have agreed to set up endowments for black communities in other jurisdictions when they sought licensing, yet they ignore the struggling black community locally where the gaming companies are based, Washington said.

Washington showed commissioners a January 2006 article from a Pittsburgh business publication that said Harrah's was willing to set up a $25 million endowment for programs to revitalize the inner city.

The article also said Harrah's proposed setting up a foundation that would receive nearly $1 million per year and be targeted at high-minority population areas.

Gene Collins, president of the Nevada chapter of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton, said Wednesday's appearance before the commission served notice that the group plans to ask tough questions at next month's licensing hearing.

"We will be in Carson City stating our case that this is unfair that you can offer $25 million in Pittsburgh but you come to the gaming mecca of the world and you don't want to do anything for the black community," Collins said.

The commissioners listened to the 15-minute presentation but did not ask questions or respond.

West Las Vegas is a historically black area generally bordered by Carey Avenue on the north, Bonanza Road on the south, Interstate 15 to the east and Rancho Drive to the west.

Harrah's accused of neglecting inner city Las Vegas is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.