Slidell Casino Question in Legal Limbo Following Appellate Court Ruling

Posted on: November 22, 2021, 07:24h. 

Last updated on: November 22, 2021, 10:22h.

The odds have lengthened that voters in Slidell, Louisiana will see a ballot question next month on bringing a casino resort to the area. That’s following a ruling last week in the US First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Slidell casino Louisiana St. Tammany gambling
St. Tammany Parish voters are set to determine the fate of the $325 million Camellia Bay Resort in Slidell, Louisiana, next month. But a lawsuit challenging the question could block the ballot measure from the election booth. (Image: Peninsula Pacific Entertainment)

On December 11, voters in St. Tammany Parish are slated to decide if a proposed $325 million casino complex dubbed Camellia Bay Resort on the Lakeshore Marina will be authorized. But a legal contest of the ballot question challenging the validity of asking parish voters to legalize commercial gambling at a single site — as opposed to parish-wide — is threatening whether that vote occurs.

In a 4-1 decision, the First Circuit in Baton Rouge ruled that the casino lawsuit should be determined before — not after — St. Tammany Parish voters weigh in on the issue.

The current ballot question reads:

Shall gaming operations authorized by the Louisiana Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Control Act be authorized 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?”

Timing Critical

The First Circuit’s ruling is a devastating blow to Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E). That’s the California-based casino operator that is seeking permission to relocate its Louisiana gaming license from Bossier City to Lake Pontchartrain. P2E permanently closed its DiamondJacks Casino amid the pandemic.

Judge John Keller in the 22nd Judicial District Court in October ruled that while the casino lawsuit has merit, the December vote could proceed. Keller reasoned that a vote would not cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs, which are led by Slidell pastor John Raymond and his attorney, Charles Branton.

Appealing to the First Circuit on Raymond’s behalf, Branton argued that the vote is unconstitutional, and therefore warrants immediate cessation of the ballot process. A majority of First Circuit judges ruled that the challenge is warranted to play out prior to the December 11 vote.

That, of course, makes timing most difficult. Attorneys on both sides are scrambling to potentially remedy the complaint. Keller plans to meet with Branton and P2E attorneys tomorrow.

“Our point was not to fight the outcome of the election. If the people want the entire parish opening up [gambling] … they can. We’re not fighting the outcome, but the process that led to an election, (which) we felt was unconstitutional,” Raymond told The New Orleans Advocate.

Casino Campaign Touchdown

P2E is on a marketing blitz in an effort to woo over parish voters into supporting its Slidell casino pitch. The company says the region would benefit greatly by way of 1,700 permanent jobs and as much as $9 million annually in local gaming tax revenue.

P2E has also pledged to help construct the long-delayed Slidell ring levee, and use $30 million to build a community athletic and sports center near the casino, should it be authorized.

One of the more popular figures in the state of Louisiana — future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, who retired last year after a 15-year run with the New Orleans Saints — is one major backer of the Slidell casino. Brees, citing P2E’s pledge to build a state-of-the-art community sports center in Slidell, says parish voters should answer “Yes” to the Camellia Bay Resort ballot question.

“I am proud to support this project [Camellia Bay Resort] and bring more youth sports opportunities to this new complex in eastern St. Tammany Parish. For this to become a reality, all we need is you to vote ‘yes’ on December 11,” the Super Bowl XLIV champion declared.