Residents in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish will decide whether to authorize a $250 million casino resort in Slidell during the October 9 election.
After months of political jockeying, lobbying, and confrontational public meetings between casino proponents and religious opposition, the Louisiana Senate approved House Bill 702 with a 23-14 vote. The House had earlier passed the legislation 63-28.
HB702 provides for a referendum in St. Tammany Parish regarding riverboat gaming. If a simple majority decides to lift the longstanding ban on gambling, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E), a California-based casino operator, would be cleared to proceed in building a quarter of a billion-dollar gaming resort at Lakeshore Marina on Lake Pontchartrain.
The last time St. Tammany voters weighed in on casino gambling was back in 1996. Sixty-two percent of the vote rejected allowing a riverboat to come to the area.
P2E decided not to reopen its DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City after being forced to temporarily shutter during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said the market was no longer attractive.
P2E began searching for a more enticing area to conduct gaming, and pinpointed Slidell in St. Tammany Parish. The ballot referendum will read:
Shall gaming operations and activities authorized by the Louisiana Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Control Act be authorized in St. Tammany Parish at a site along those certain waterways in St. Tammany Parish along portions of Lake Pontchartrain that are part of the Lakeshore Marina located south and east of Interstate 10, Exit 261, and shall (Name of licensee approved by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board) or the licensee’s successors and assigns be authorized to relocate from its current location to the location in St. Tammany Parish described above, and to develop on such location a gaming, hotel, and resort operation all in accordance with the Louisiana Gaming Control Law, the Louisiana Gaming Control the Louisiana Election Code, and other relevant constitutional and statutory authority?”
Before the referendum can reach voters, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) must sign HB702, which he says he will do.
Long before the general public even knew Peninsula Pacific would look to relocate its Bossier City gaming license to Slidell, P2E contracted 19 lobbyists in Baton Rouge to campaign on its behalf.
Penn National Gaming and Boyd Gaming, which operate casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi, also sent lobbyists to the Baton Rouge capital to urge lawmakers to reject allowing a casino in Slidell. But a majority of state lawmakers opted to instead let the people in St. Tammany decide.
The legislative effort was not without controversy. The wife of Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco), the state politician who cast the tiebreaking vote to pass the Slidell casino referendum while in the Senate Judiciary Committee, lobbied on behalf of P2E. But Smith said he was unaware of her current clients, but even if he had known, that would not have impacted his vote.
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