It’s official. On November 13, voters in St. Tammany Parish will decide whether they wish to lift a ban on commercial gambling and allow a casino resort to be built in Slidell, La.
During a special meeting this week, the council voted 8-6 to place the casino referendum question on the parish ballot.
In favor were Councilmembers Mike Lorino, Rykert Toledano, Maureen O’Brien, Jimmie Davis, Steve Stefancik, Martha Cazaubon, Marty Dean, and Cheryl Tanner. The six in opposition were Jerry Binder, T.J. Smith, Chris Canulette, David Fitzgerald, Jake Airey, and Mike Smith.
On November 13, if a simple majority of parish voters say “yes” to allowing a casino at the Lakeshore Marina on Lake Pontchartrain, the project will be cleared to move forward. But before that vote occurs, political campaigning regarding the controversial project will be in full force.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) is behind the St. Tammany Parish casino push. The casino operator permanently closed its DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City last year. It is seeking a more desirable market in Louisiana with less competition and believes it found such a site in Slidell.
The last time St. Tammany considered lifting its gambling ban was back in 1996. Sixty-two percent of voters said “No.” But the gaming landscape nationally, and in Louisiana, has greatly changed over the past quarter-century. Some believe there’s now adequate support locally in the parish to welcome gambling.
Last November, voters in each of Louisiana’s 64 parishes were asked if they want to authorize sports betting in their county after state laws are passed providing for such regulation. Sixty-seven percent of St. Tammany votes cast said “Yes.”
P2E says its $325 million investment will bring much-needed jobs and tax revenue to St. Tammany. The casino has pledged to share five percent of its annual gross gaming revenue with the parish, forecast to be around $9 million a year.
This week’s St. Tammany Parish meeting lasted several hours, as the public voiced strong positions for and against the casino.
The primary opposition came from religious leaders in the community. They argue that while gaming attitudes might have changed since 1996, the societal risks associated with casinos have not altered.
Pastors said the casino might create some jobs and generate tax revenue, but that will pale in comparison to the damage caused by broken marriages, bankruptcies, suicides, and crime.
A mecca of immorality, crime, and financial fallout,” is how Rev. John Raymond summarized the topic at hand. But supporters said the people, not councilmembers, should have the final say.
“Let us decide,” said Ronald Reeves, who owns a home in Slidell.
P2E hired a slew of lobbyists who successfully convinced legislators in Baton Rouge to pass a bill that allows the casino referendum to occur. Now, the casino company will likely spend heavily in campaigning for a “yes” vote come November.