Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) succeeded in getting enough members of one governing body on board with a St. Tammany Parish casino. Now it has the same task with the voters who elected those council members.
Among the selling points are economic and infrastructure benefits to the parish that the developers say the casino will provide. If the council vote is any indication of the sentiments of the voter base at large, it may not be an easy sell.
St. Tammany Parish casino project moves forward
On June 30, the parish council approved a resolution connected to the casino 8-6. The motion merely puts a measure to repeal an existing ban on casino gaming in the parish on the Nov. 13 ballot. According to an Associated Press report, the narrow approval came after hours of heated debate.
Dissenting voices raised several concerns. Among them was disbelief that the parish would actually enjoy the full extent of the economic benefits the developers tout. The proposal before the parish council laid those benefits out. The parish would receive 5% of the annual net gaming revenue from the casino.
The developer estimates that would come out to $7.5 million to $9 million each year. The parish council provided residents with some details on where the rest of the tax money will go:
- 37.5% to the council, with a mandate to spend at least 12.5% in the St. Tammany Parish Gaming & Entertainment Zone
- 15% to the City of Slidell, with at least 16% of that earmarked for community development and around $1 million supporting non-profits in the city
- 8% to maintain Levee District projects
- 7% to support a new St. Tammany Competitive Sports and Tourism Complex
- 4% for the St. Tammany Parish Municipal Special Project Fund
- 2% for the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office
The state will get another 26% of tax revenue. In addition, P2E has pledged $35 million to build the sports and tourism complex. It also increased its projections on construction costs for the casino from $250 million to $325 million. Those numbers didn’t address all concerns at the council meeting, however.
Critics also voiced dismay over potential increases in crime and traffic in the area along with responsible gambling concerns. P2E will have to belay those fears not only among St. Tammany voters but the state’s gaming regulators and local courts as well.
Pending lawsuits could impact project success
Two lawsuits could have an impact on the answer to this question. One of them has already seen limited defeat. Just hours prior to the council’s public quorum, a state judge denied a motion to halt the meeting. However, an amended complaint from the same plaintiff has moved forward.
That plaintiff is the City of Covington in St. Tammany Parish, but it isn’t alone. John Raymond, a Slidell resident and member of the Republican Parish Executive Committee, has filed his own complaint with the Louisiana 22nd Judicial District. The two lawsuits make similar but not identical arguments.
Both name the council as defendants and argue that the council either jumped the gun or overstepped its authority by voting to authorize the referendum. Raymond’s complaint argues that the state legislature, not the council, must approve a ballot measure and that ballot measure must pass before the council can do anything formal on the issue of any casino in the parish.
In 1996, St. Tammany voters barred casinos and video poker rooms from their neighborhoods. Another referendum is necessary to repeal that restriction. Covington’s lawsuit is more about the timing of the council vote than whether it has the authority to initiate a referendum. It argues that state law requires the Louisiana Gaming Control Board to approve P2E’s application for relocation before any action can be taken at the local level.
That application is currently before the Board, as it seeks to move its license from the now-shuttered DiamondJacks property in Bossier City to Slidell. It isn’t clear how soon the Board could issue a decision on that point. Either way, it probably won’t be the end of the drama.
Possible outcomes for the St. Tammany Parish casino
Within the past two years, the Board has approved plans for two other riverboat casinos to move inland. Those plans are reactions to a 2018 law that allow Louisiana riverboat casinos to relocate onto terra firma as long as it’s no more than 1,200 feet from their current mooring location.
Those facts seem to bode well for P2E. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, though. The move from Bossier City to Slidell would surpass that 1,200-foot cap. Additionally, the parish ban on casino gaming overrides the inland transition provision.
Even if P2E is successful with the Board and the courts, swaying the public may prove more difficult. Seven members of the City of Slidell’s council asked the parish council to delay the referendum. The co-signed members want to conduct an impact study. The parish sheriff, Randy Smith, and the Slidell Chief of Police, Randy Fandal, have also voiced opposition to the casino.
Even with the narrow approval from the parish council, there is a lot of work ahead of P2E and advocates for the project. In fact, getting eight parish council members on board might prove easy in comparison to swaying voters.