Dozens of companies have liens against casino

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- The L'Auberge Casino & Hotel Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- The L'Auberge Casino & Hotel Baton Rouge.

The dispute between Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., the parent company of L’Auberge Casino & Hotel Baton Rouge, and its contractors over unpaid bills appears to be growing.

Some three dozen companies, including general contractor Manhattan Construction Co., have filed $70 million in liens against the casino since September, according to records filed in the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office. And four companies have sued Pinnacle and/or Marathon in 19th Judicial District Court over the past three months.

Pinnacle opened the casino and hotel on Sept. 1. Pinnacle’s 2012 annual report showed the company has spent $352.6 million on the Baton Rouge entertainment complex.

Wilhite Electric Co. Inc., of Bossier City, is the latest firm to sue Pinnacle and Manhattan, according to court records filed Feb. 22. Wilhite is seeking $8.5 million, saying in its lawsuit that it has done $27.6 million worth of work and been paid $19.1 million.

Timothy Wilhite, Wilhite’s general counsel and chief financial officer, said the family-owned company and its subcontractors finished their work months ago, but no one from Manhattan or Pinnacle will return phone calls.

“I am not happy,” Wilhite said.

Wilhite Electric had filed an $8.5 million lien against the casino in October to protect its interests, Wilhite said.

Wilhite noted that the actual amount involved in the disputes between Pinnacle, Manhattan and various subcontractors may be much lower than the $70 million total of the liens. That’s because of the possibility of duplicated filings by contractors and their subcontractors. For example, Wilhite said his company’s lien covers all of its subcontractors.

In an email, Manhattan spokeswoman Natalie Pagano said although the casino and hotel were completed last year, unresolved issues remain over the costs of extra work and payments.

Manhattan has paid subcontractors all the money that Pinnacle provided for their work, Pagano said. Manhattan is working with all parties, in court and out, to resolve the disputes, she said.

One of those efforts is a $31.1 million lien Manhattan filed against the casino on Nov. 16, according to records at the Clerk of Court’s Office. Manhattan’s lien is the largest of those filed against the casino.

Julie Collins, a spokeswoman for Pinnacle, said the company has a corporate policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Dale Hall said the board has gotten a few, mostly anonymous emails about the payment dispute but no formal complaints.

Hall said it’s not unusual for payment disputes to arise in large construction projects.

“We’re aware of the situation, and we are monitoring it, along with the State Police,” Hall said.

The Louisiana State Police regulates legalized gambling.

Right now Manhattan and Pinnacle are negotiating, Hall said. If those talks succeed, Pinnacle can pay Manhattan and Manhattan can then pay the subcontractors.

Since October, four firms have dropped liens against the casino totaling $3.6 million. The latest, Miscellaneous Steel Industries Inc. of Kyle, Texas, dropped a $1.4 million lien on Thursday.

Pinnacle officials have said the entertainment complex has drawn such large weekend crowds that the company plans to add additional parking. Since opening Sept. 1, the casino has taken in close to $58 million from gamblers through January, according to gaming board revenue reports.

Those sorts of reports have angered some contractors. Last year, Kostmayer Construction of Slidell, which claims it is owed $2.3 million, threatened to picket the casino. Kostmayer is one of the companies that has sued Pinnacle and filed a lien against the casino.

Meanwhile, three other recent lawsuits by subcontractors involve much smaller amounts than Wilhite Electric’s filing. The claims in those lawsuits total around $207,000.

In its lawsuit, Academy Awning Inc. says Manhattan and Pinnacle have failed to pay $55,702 for cabanas at the casino. Academy is also asking for interest and legal fees.

Casey Civil LLC alleges in its lawsuit that Manhattan and Pinnacle have failed to pay $75,798 for labor and materials.

East Texas Precast says it provided the precast parking garage for the casino under a contract worth nearly $2 million, according to its lawsuit. The lawsuit says Manhattan still owes East Texas Precast $74,770.

Pinnacle owns and runs seven casinos in Louisiana, Missouri and Indiana and has a racetrack in Ohio. It also is redeveloping River Downs in Cincinnati into a gambling entertainment facility.