Harrah's draws activists' criticism


Local minority business groups and activists on Thursday criticized Harrah's Entertainment during state gaming regulatory hearings for not showing more transparency in its diversity efforts.

The testimony came a day after the Gaming Control Board recommended approval of the $17.1 billion buyout of Harrah's by private equity firms TPG Capital and Apollo Management.

Eleven representatives from groups representing the Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and black communities testified by teleconference from Las Vegas to Carson City, where the control board was meeting.

"We would like to see the company increase their diversity department," said Hannah Brown, an activist with the 100 Black Women. "There is a need to reach further into the community and provide more outreach as far as diversity is concerned."

Robert Gomez, chairman of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, asked why Harrah's hasn't released a diversity report similar to annual reports MGM Mirage has produced since 2002.

"We know there is a diversity pie, we just don't know how it is divided up or how big it is," Gomez said after the hearing.

In 2000, MGM Mirage began gathering its numbers on minority hiring, awards of contracts to minority-owned businesses and philanthropy in the community. Harrah's has yet to release any numbers defining its diversity efforts.

Harrah's Vice President of National Diversity Relations Tony Gladney attended the hearings and spoke with many of the people who testified.

However, no one from the company discussed the issue with the gaming regulators.

Many of the minority representatives said their relationship with the company is a lot better than it was only a few years ago, and many of the speakers expressed comfort in knowing that the current management team will be left in place after the deal is completed.

"We are welcoming the new ownership but we would like a continued dialogue with them to increase minority participation," said Al Barber, president of the National Association of Minority Contractors.

However, a pair of activists who were not allowed to speak before the board on Wednesday admonished the gaming regulators.

Gene Collins said he wanted to ask Harrah's Chairman and CEO Gary Loveman three specific questions: What is the company's diversity budget for the black community, how much has been spent and who is getting the money?

In Las Vegas on Thursday, Collins blasted the board members.

"I am astounded by the lack of tough questions that was asked to Mr. Loveman and the answers he gave," he said.

The regulators did have a short discussion Wednesday about a letter from the Urban Chamber of Commerce expressing concern with Harrah's diversity efforts.

Stanley Washington, an activist who flew to Carson City with Collins on Wednesday, also asked why board members didn't ask harder questions about Harrah's diversity programs and about its problems with remodeling that forced hundreds of rooms to close at Harrah's Las Vegas and the Rio.

"We're dealing with a gaming company who would rather put the public safety at risk and do construction work without permits rather than going out there and doing the right thing because they care," Washington said.

The three-member gaming board asked did not question the activists and did not respond to their statements.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or (702) 477-3893.

 

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