Slidell City Council Rejects St. Tammany Parish Casino Referendum

Posted on: April 29, 2021, 09:13h. 

Last updated on: April 29, 2021, 12:46h.

The Slidell City Council in Louisiana this week voted against a proposed ballot referendum that would allow residents in St. Tammany Parish to decide whether they wish to lift a long-standing ban on commercial gambling.

Slidell Louisiana St. Tammany Parish casino
A public meeting regarding casino gambling hosted by the Slidell City Council turned out a large crowd. The council ultimately refused to endorse an initiative to allow residents to vote on whether to authorize gambling in the parish. (Image: The New Orleans Advocate)

With two of the nine city council members absent from Tuesday night’s meeting, the casino referendum issue required five votes in support to gain the local government’s backing. After two hours of fervent debate, only four city council members lent their approval to placing a gambling question before voters in November.

I refuse to gamble with Slidell’s future and our security,” declared council member-at-large Glynn Pichon. 

Councilmember David Dunham, who was one of the four who voted in favor of the casino resolution, argued that the council should support allowing residents — not lawmakers or local officials — to have the final say on whether they want to overturn the 1996 parish vote that prohibited commercial riverboat gambling.

“What we’re deciding is just a symbolic measure,” Dunham said. “What’s more American than being able to vote for something?”

Vote Has No Legal Bearing

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) closed its DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City last year during the pandemic. The California-based casino operator wants to relocate its gaming license to an area less saturated with casino riverboats. The company believes it has found an ideal site in Slidell at the Lakeshore Marina.

But for the state to allow P2E to build a new casino and bring its gaming permit south, St. Tammany Parish residents need to sign off on allowing commercial gambling. 

Senate Bill 213, introduced by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell), seeks to place the gaming referendum question before parish voters. The bill passed the Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is currently in the chamber’s Finance Committee. 

If the law passes the Senate and House and is subsequently signed by the governor, St. Tammany Parish voters would weigh in on the casino matter in November. The Slidell City Council’s refusal to back the referendum has no bearing on the bill in Baton Rouge, other than perhaps resulting in some state lawmakers changing their opinion on whether to support the resolution.

Parish Anti-Gambling Attitudes

A quarter of a century ago, voters in St. Tammany Parish easily rejected a motion to legalize riverboat gambling. The issue garnered just 38 percent support. 

Twenty-five years later, some believe anti-gambling attitudes have changed. During the 2020 presidential election, 67.3 percent of St. Tammany voters gave their support to allowing sports betting to operate within the parish.

P2E says if residents lift the ban on gambling in the parish, it would invest more than $250 million to build a new casino resort. That would create 1,700 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent positions thereafter.  

While the Slidell City Council will not endorse the ballot referendum, in February the St. Tammany Parish Council did. The parish council voted 11-1 in favor of the resolution.