Louisiana Senate Committee Passes Slidell Casino Bill, Floor to Consider Measure

Posted on: April 21, 2021, 07:56h. 

Last updated on: July 5, 2021, 01:26h.

An effort in Louisiana to relocate a riverboat casino license from Bossier City to Slidell in St. Tammany Parish made progress this week in the state senate. 

Louisiana casino Slidell St. Tammany Parish
The closed DiamondJacks Casino Resort is seen locked up. Owners of the property and its Louisiana casino license hope to build a new gaming resort in Slidell. (Image: KTBS)

Senate Bill 213, authored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), narrowly passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday by a 4-3 vote.

If the bill passes the Senate and House of Representatives and is then signed by Gov. John bel Edwards (D), it moves to a public ballot. Voters in St. Tammany would be asked during the November 2021 election whether they wish to allow commercial gambling in the parish. 

It’s about giving our local community the opportunity to vote,” Hewitt explained of her legislation. 

Only a simple majority support is needed to end the current prohibition that bans casinos within St. Tammany. 

Relocating DiamondJacks

The campaign to place a casino in Slidell is being driven by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E). The casino operator closed its DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City amid the pandemic last year. 

P2E says Bossier City is oversaturated with riverboat casinos. It has pinpointed Slidell as a more attractive market. Slidell is approximately 30 miles northeast of New Orleans across Lake Pontchartrain. 

With state and local voter support, P2E says it would spend $250 million to build a new gaming destination on 100 acres of land just off Interstate 10 at the Lakeshore Marina. 

The last time an effort to permit riverboat gambling in St. Tammany came back in 1996. Voters easily rejected the referendum, 62 percent saying “no” to gambling.

Attitudes towards gambling, P2E hopes, have since changed. The parish was one of 64 parishes that signed off last November on allowing sports betting to take place within their limits. 

P2E holds one of the state’s 15 riverboat gaming permits. A 2018 law, however, allows riverboats to request permission from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board for the privilege to move inland, so long as they remain within 1,200 feet of water. 

Controversy Surrounds Vote

The Advocate reports that Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco), who chairs the Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee, cast the tiebreaking vote in okaying the Slidell casino bill. Smith’s wife, however, is a longtime lobbyist in Baton Rouge and has been hired by P2E to lobby on behalf of its Slidell casino ambitions.

She didn’t tell me,” Smith said of his wife’s P2E work to The Advocate. “Any involvement by her would not change my opinion that letting the people of that area vote on the issue is the correct vote.”

P2E says its Slidell casino would create 1,700 construction jobs and 1,900 permanent positions thereafter. The parish would benefit directly from a five percent tax on all gross gaming revenue being earmarked to stay locally. 

The St. Tammany Parish Council in February endorsed the effort to allow voters to decide if they wish to end the area’s prohibition on gambling.