A legal battle is in place over whether an upcoming Nov. 13 referendum can even be voted on in the matter of transferring a license and building a $325 million casino resort at the Lake Shore Marina in St. Tammany Parish.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation in June to allow the referendum to take place. But not everyone agrees it should — or that it is even constitutional.
Legal challenges arise over Slidell casino
Two lawsuits and a petition have been filed over the proposed relocation of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment’s casino privileges from Bossier City to Slidell and subsequent casino construction.
One of the lawsuits already failed in its attempt to prevent the St. Tammany Council from voting to put the casino referendum on the ballot. The remaining suit argues that such a referendum must apply to the whole parish, not just St. Tammany/Slidell.
“The [Louisiana] Constitution requires a parish-wide vote to flip the entire parish from a ‘NO riverboat gaming parish’ to a ‘YES riverboat gaming parish’ — before there may be any consideration of whether a riverboat gaming license may be transferred to any particular location within the parish.”
Historically, commercial gambling has been illegal in the parish. In 1996, parish voters actively rejected it.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, out of Los Angeles, closed its Diamond Jacks Casino in Bossier City in 2020. As previously mentioned, it seeks to transfer its casino license to Slidell, considered a more attractive market.
Lawsuit claims parish violated Louisiana constitution
Rev. John Raymond argues that a casino will not inconvenience the parish’s west side. In fact, the new business will benefit the area. However, the east side may well experience problems.
“The west side of the parish is incentivized by a 5% revenue share bribe,” Raymond told the Louisiana Record, “without having to deal with the plethora of problems within the 10-mile epicenter of the casino, where it is proven the majority of the negative consequences will occur over time.”
The lawsuit also indicates that officials must meet several prerequisites, none of them met, before putting the issue in front of voters.
The filing notes that the Louisiana legislature needs to approve riverboat gambling in the parish. After legislators authorize a parish-wide vote, those residents must then approve riverboat gambling. Finally, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board must sign off on the gambling license transfer.
On top of this, Jason Goltz and Chandler Goltz, both residents of St. Tammany, also filed a petition with the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. It posits that the proposed action is unlawful and that the state should allow open bidding for the license transfer. According to the petition, it would be financially advantageous for the state to do so.
The filings name St. Tammany Parish and its council as defendants.
Who supports, who opposes casino license transfer?
The Louisiana Baptists organization is among those against the license referendum. It cited Louisiana Department of Health statistics showing that the number of problem gamblers in the state has tripled since 1993. Of note, lawmakers legalized gambling that year. Other religious groups have expressed dislike for the measure, as well.
Dan Lee, owner five casinos in the US, including Silver Slipper Casino in Mississippi, has expressed interest in bidding for the license himself. He hopes to build a $500 million casino in Lake Charles. The Slidell casino, if legalized, would directly compete with the nearby Silver Slipper.
Rep. Denise Marcelle tried to deflect opposition, noting that rather than expanding gambling, the legislation would simply relocate one of the state’s already existing casino licenses.
Estimates suggest that if the casino approval goes through, it will create around 1,600 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent positions.