The Louisiana Supreme Court today delivered a major victory to casino developers seeking to build a $325 million resort on the Lakeshore Marina in Slidell.
After weeks of uncertainty, the state’s highest court ruled that voters in St. Tammany Parish can weigh in on the proposed project called Camellia Bay Resort. Voting will take place on December 11 through a ballot referendum.
A legal complaint from those opposing efforts to bring a casino to Slidell argues that the parish must ask voters if they wish to lift the parish-wide ban on commercial gambling. That’s as opposed to the now-approved referendum that asks residents if they wish to legalize commercial gambling on a single designated property.
The Louisiana Supreme Court said despite the warranted concerns regarding the gaming ballot referendum, the casino vote should proceed. The court ruled that if a simple majority backs the referendum, the legal questions surrounding the validity of the process can be further determined.
Early voting on the casino began over the weekend and runs through the December 11 election.
Casinos Sides Lobbying Heavily
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) is the casino operator that wants to bring Slidell an entertainment destination featuring slot machines, table games, and a sportsbook. P2E has received temporary approval from the state to relocate its gaming license from DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City, which the company permanently closed last year, to Slidell.
But that state approval is conditioned on a simple majority of local voters in St. Tammany Parish endorsing an initiative to amend the Louisiana Constitution to allow commercial gambling to operate in the county.
A judge in Louisiana’s 22nd Judicial Court initially ruled that the casino vote should proceed. That was based on grounds that the legal complaint could be remedied at a later time, should the vote go in P2E’s favor. But a federal appeals court said the manner should be settled prior to the election. That prompted the St. Tammany Parish government to ask the state’s high court to dismiss that ruling, which it did.
The Northshore Wins, the lobbying arm of P2E in Louisiana, is likely to spend more than $3 million on campaign efforts ahead of the December 11 vote. Area residents are seeing the spend firsthand, as they’ve recently been flooded with television, radio, and social media ads hyping the forecasted economic benefits of Camellia Bay Resort.
There are opponents, too. The New Orleans Advocate reports that the casino opposition is being led by Watchdog PAC and Stand Up St. Tammany. Together, the two nonprofit political action committees are expected to spend more than $1 million on advertisements urging parish voters to reject the casino referendum.
Low Turnout Expected
St. Tammany Parish voters will only face one ballot question — the casino initiative. As a result, voter turnout for the December 11 ballot issue is expected to be minimal. Gauging whether pro- or the anti-casino crowd will more heavily go to their polling locations is largely a mystery.
St. Tammany Parish voters are deciding on a gaming referendum for the first time in 25 years. The last effort to bring commercial gambling to the region failed easily in 1996, roughly 62 percent of the vote rejecting the casino question.
“For a race like this, it’s all about turnout,” said Karen Carvin Shachat, a Louisiana political consultant, to The New Orleans Advocate.
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