Louisiana Committee Again Passes Slidell Casino Bill, but There’s New Controversy

Posted on: May 26, 2021, 12:21h. 

Last updated on: June 30, 2021, 10:52h.

The Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee has, for a second time, backed legislation that would allow voters in St. Tammany Parish to decide if they want to legalize commercial gambling. 

Louisiana casino license Slidell St. Tammany
Louisiana Sen. Gary Smith is seen. The state lawmaker’s wife is causing some concern regarding potentially allowing a casino license to move to Slidell. (Image: The Center Square)

The Senate Judiciary B Committee this week voted 4-3 in favor of House Bill 702. If the statute passes the Louisiana Legislature, parish voters in October would rule whether to end a prohibition on commercial gambling that has stood in St. Tammany since 1991. 

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) wants to relocate its casino license from Bossier City to Slidell. The Los Angeles-based casino operator permanently closed its DiamondJacks Casino amid the pandemic.

P2E finds Slidell a more desirable gaming market but needs parish residents to open their arms to a casino. If the potential referendum would pass, P2E says it would build a more than $250 million casino resort at the Lakeshore Marina, adjacent to the Blind Tiger restaurant.

Committee Chair Controversy

Opponents to bringing a casino to Slidell voiced concerns regarding Sen. Gary Smith (D-Norco) chairing the Judiciary B Committee. Smith’s wife, Katherine, is part of a lobbying effort in the Baton Rouge capital working on behalf of P2E. 

“I’m very concerned with your wife’s connection with the casino people,” said Pear River resident Lisa Clayton. “I find it an ethical consideration. Many of us are concerned about your voting on this and your impartiality.”

With the Judiciary B Committee vote 3-3, Smith cast the tie-breaking vote to pass HB 702. The longtime state politician defended his vote to Clayton.

My wife was a lobbyist long before I met her,” Smith explained. “I’ve been voting on gaming issues for the last 20 years, which well exceeds our time together. 

“I’ve been a consistent vote for those 20 years on that. She has a separate career that is separate from me. We keep it professional,” he added.

Sen. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) also defended Smith. 

“The fact that he was questioned about his wife’s profession is very offensive,” Johns opined. “If he had been against gaming throughout the process and changed his course of action in the committee hearing a few weeks ago, I’d say something’s changed. Nothing’s changed. He’s been very consistent.”

Better Luck Second Time Around

Smith’s wife’s lobbying for the gaming license relocation was only revealed after the Senate Judiciary B Committee first voted on a St. Tammany Parish casino bill. The controversy subsequently stalled that piece of legislation (Senate Bill 213) in the Senate Finance Committee.

HB 702, nearly identical to SB 213, was introduced to force the Senate Judiciary B Committee to review the casino issue under more transparency and full disclosure. HB 702 now moves to the Senate Finance Committee, where it is expected to receive a vote. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has issued his support for relocating P2E’s casino license from Bossier City to Slidell.

“It’s an ideal spot,” the governor said. “A lot of people are going to Mississippi [to gamble].”