Louisiana House Passes St. Tammany Casino Bill, Motion Moves to Senate

Posted on: May 14, 2021, 10:10h. 

Last updated on: May 14, 2021, 01:43h.

The Louisiana House has passed a bill that would allow voters in St. Tammany Parish to decide whether they wish to authorize commercial gambling.

Louisiana St. Tammany Parish Slidell casino
Louisiana House representatives discuss legislative matters on the chamber’s opening day last month. This week, the lower chamber passed a bill that would allow voters in St. Tammany Parish to consider ending the longtime ban on commercial gambling. (Image: Associated Press)

After stalling on Wednesday, House lawmakers yesterday voted 63-28 in favor of House Bill 702. Introduced by Rep. Mary DuBuisson (R-Slidell), the legislation would place a ballot referendum question before local residents during the next election. It would ask if they think the prohibition on commercial gaming in the parish should be lifted.

The effort is a result of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) seeking to build a new casino resort in Slidell. P2E permanently closed its DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City last year amid the pandemic. The decision resulted in the loss of 400 jobs. 

P2E says the environment in Bossier City is too competitive. The California-based gaming operator believes Slidell and St. Tammany is far more attractive for its casino license. 

Opposition to the casino issue is being led by faith-based and conservative family groups, specifically the Louisiana Baptists and Louisiana Family Forum. 

Senate Test

Louisiana is home to 14 commercial casinos. All but one — Harrah’s New Orleans — are riverboats. P2E holds the gaming privileges to the 15th casino license.

Each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes is free to determine if they want to allow casinos. St. Tammany last voted on allowing gambling in 1996. The measure easily failed, 62 percent of local voters saying “No.”

DuBuisson’s bill is expected to face another tough test in the Senate. A committee in the upper chamber has stalled similar legislation introduced by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) on concerns of bias. 

Senators pointed to the fact that the tiebreaking vote in the Judiciary Committee in April was cast by Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco). It was later revealed that Smith’s wife, Katherine, a lobbyist in the Baton Rouge capital, is currently working on behalf of P2E. 

Smith said he was unaware that his wife was contracted by P2E. 

She didn’t tell me,” Smith claimed. “Any involvement by her would not change my opinion that letting the people of that area vote on the issue is the correct vote.”

It wasn’t known as of Friday afternoon where the Senate would direct HB702 for initial committee consideration. 

Project Scope

P2E has presented St. Tammany with a $250 million blueprint featuring a 250-room hotel. The company is targeting land at the Lakeshore Marina near the Blind Tiger restaurant. 

The development would spur 1,600 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent positions, P2E suggests. The company has additionally sweetened the pot by telling the parish that it will donate $5 million to help build the $9 million Slidell ring levee that has been stalled since 2017.