Casinos in New Orleans? A question for the cards


July 17, 1992|By Jim Yardley | Jim Yardley,Cox News Service

NEW ORLEANS -- Bobby Moore, a French Quarter voodoo priest who reads tarot cards on Dumaine Street, is tired. The spirits have really taken it out of him lately.

He says he's going to Jamaica to get some rest. His body will stay in New Orleans, he says with a smile, but his spirit is heading south.

But before he goes, he agrees to read the cards regarding a matter of civic importance: the controversial plan, approved by the state Legislature, to build a giant gambling casino near the Quarter.

Everyone in the Vieux Carre, from street artists to street hustlers to Bourbon Street strippers, seems to have an opinion on the casino. Some say it will bring more tourists, more money and more jobs. Others predict more traffic, more crime and more Mob. Some city leaders have vowed to stop it, while others say, "Laissez les bons temps rouler" (Let the good times roll).

No one knows what the future will bring, except perhaps the spirits -- and Mr. Moore.

"There's so much up in the air that there are about 15 million possibilities," he says inside the Voodoo Museum before he pulls a card.

Around the corner on Bourbon Street, Misty Belmonte, 18, stands outside Big Daddy's Bottomless and Topless in a low-cut black nightie, an earring through her nose, trying to lure customers inside. She searched for weeks to find work before getting the job of hostess at Big Daddy's.

"I came in at 1 p.m., and the boss told me to come back wearing something slutty," she says. "I went home and changed. If the casinos came in, maybe people wouldn't have to do this for money.

"Look at Las Vegas. They have McDonald's in the schools. They don't have any taxes on anything. The money the casinos make takes care of everything. If they are talking about morals, New Orleans is a city of sin anyway."

But if Ms. Belmonte sees a casino complementing the Quarter's tourist trade, others say it will be direct competition.

"The people will come in, check in at the casino, eat there, play there and be gone," says Mike Mulroney, a bartender at The Fatted Calf.

"We'll never see them leave the property. They'll tie up parking where nobody wants to come into the Quarter."

Outside Big Daddy's, the midday sun beats a stream of sweat over the two fat scars slicing the right side of Mario Baptiste's head as he approaches tourists. He makes his money the hard way; he hustles it. But he wants no part of a casino. Why? Crime.

"It'll cause more muggings, robberies and stealing," he predicts and then reveals his latest hustle, usually done for a $2 wager. "I bet I can tell you how many letters are in your last name.

"Twelve," he says. "Y-O-U-R L-A-S-T N-A-M-E."

He smiles -- flashing six gold-plated front teeth, one carved with a heart -- and heads for an unsuspecting tourist. "Keep that a secret."

Umbrellas shade the row of portrait artists beside Jackson Square where Marcel de Nievre has spent the better part of 23 years flattering visitors with his paintings. People come to the French Quarter for the architecture, the food and the music, he says, grimacing at the idea of casinos.

"I can just visualize neon signs everywhere cheapening the old atmosphere," he says. "Everyone knows what happened to Atlantic City. Many of the fine neighborhoods have deteriorated. The majority of the middle class [has] moved out."

Mr. Moore, meanwhile, has pulled the first card.

"The search for money," he says it represents. Seems on the right track.

The second card is the Hierophant. "It shows the problem is the system," he says. "The governmental system is the obstacle. The social system is the obstacle."

But will the casino be built? He pulls the final card: the Ace of Rods. He smiles.

"The casino needs to have a social conscience," he offers. "It needs to be involved in the nurturing and the growth of the city. And one more thing, and it seems bizarre -- it needs to be a cheerful place."

Good thing that was free of charge.

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