You don't have to bet big to get a nice room at Harrah's

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High rollers overnighting at Harrah's New Orleans Casino and Hotel will find their suites come furnished with a grand piano and a working fireplace. Their favorite chocolates will be gift-wrapped, and fine wines will be chilled. And if Fido is along, a doggie bag full of his favorite treats will be waiting.

But chances are guests making more meager wagers at the casino won't be disappointed with their accommodations, either. The standard rooms at Harrah's new downtown hotel are spacious, with oversize baths and first-rate amenities throughout.

The 450-room hotel is attracting a nearly full house most nights, with an occupancy rate of around 97%, according to Jim Hoskins, senior vice president and general manager.

"Business is great and getting better," said Hoskins. "The tourist areas of New Orleans are 100% up and running."

Harrah's officials are predicting business will be better this fall and winter and into 2008, as New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina continues.

On a recent visit, Bourbon Street crowds were large and lively into the early morning hours.

Inside Harrah's casino, gamblers were packed around the blackjack tables 24 hours a day.

The $170 million hotel, which was under construction when Katrina hit, opened a year ago this month. It is located across the street from the casino, the only land-based casino in New Orleans. Both lie steps from the French Quarter.

"We've got the best rooms in the best location in town," said Hoskins. "Once guests arrive, there are many reasons that will keep them coming back."

Friendly, personal service is one, and artwork is another. The entire hotel is decorated with works by local artists and photographers focusing on New Orleans.

In the lobby, there's a colorful John T. Scott woodblock picture of Louis Armstrong blowing his trumpet in the lobby. An eerie photograph of the St. Louis Cathedral shrouded in early morning fog hung over the bathtub in my room.

Harrah's standard rooms measure more than 450 square feet and boast spacious baths with separate tubs and glass-enclosed showers.

The latest in technology is available in all rooms, including high-definition TVs with on-command interactive systems, dataport accessibility, cordless phones and wireless, high-speed Internet. Each room has a refrigerator and a safe.

Suites are located on the corners of each guest floor and have separate sleeping, living and bath areas as well as plasma TVs.

The all-suite 26th floor is staffed by butlers who make sure rooms are stocked to meet individual guests' tastes and specifications.

The hotel also has a ballroom and meetings and boardroom space as well as a well-equipped fitness area with a commanding view of the Mississippi River.

Food is another draw at Harrah's. Celebrity chef Todd English chose the hotel as the site for his first French brasserie, Riche. (Be sure to advise clients to try the scallops or the whole, cooked fish of the day.)

Next door is 528, English's jazz club, which is named for its address on Fulton Street. The restored building dates from the 1850s and is protected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Inside the casino are several other restaurants, including the Besh Steakhouse, a New Orleans-style eatery whose 38-ounce, bone-in rib eye will challenge even the biggest appetite. Bambu serves excellent sushi and other Asian cuisine.

There's also the traditional casino buffet as well as several fast-food chain restaurants.

The casino is a huge draw in its own right, of course. Open 24 hours a day, it covers a square city block and has 104 gaming tables, a 23-table poker room and 2,100 slot machines.

Masquerade, the casino's 500-seat theater, has musical and comedy shows nightly.

Room rates start at $250 for a double room for two in the low, summer season. Prices are higher in the fall, winter and spring, especially during Mardi Gras or other festivals.

Call (800) 847-5299 or visit www.harrahsneworleans.com.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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