The house lost this one.
In a parish-wide proposition on Saturday, December 11, 63% of St. Tammany voters chose to keep in effect a ban on casino gambling. There, the kibosh was put on Peninsula Pacific Entertainment’s (P2E) hopes of transferring their Bossier City casino license privileges and building a $325 million casino outside Slidell.
The vote seems to be the climax of a saga that began with the closing of Diamond Jacks, PPE’s Bossier City casino in 2020 and included lawsuits, a petition, an original referendum date postponed by a Category 4 hurricane, court decisions, reversed court decisions, and P2E’s local volunteer efforts in the storm’s aftermath.
Both sides lobbied strongly for some time preceding the vote. Almost 1/3 of eligible voters went to the polls.
St. Tammany: A history of no casinos
Gambling has always been prohibited in St. Tammany. A vote of 69% against casinos in the parish happened in 1996. With the re-ignition of the matter by P2E’s proposal and Gov. John Bel Edwards signature on legislation allowing the new referendum, opposition rose again — and along with vocal opposition from citizens, clergy, government officials, and police came lawsuits trying to stop the referendum, the latter of which ultimately failed.
The lawsuits contended that the action would violate the state’s constitution. Such a referendum needed to apply to gambling in the whole parish, not just St. Tammany/Slidell, rather than allowing a vote on permitting gambling on a sole property.
A petition filed by a married couple, citizens of St. Tammany Parish, argued that the state should allow open bidding on the Bossier City license transfer.
The mayors of Slidell and Mandeville, Greg Cromer and Clay Madden, respectively, along with Slidell’s police chief and St. Tammany’s sheriff, Randy Fandal and Randy Smith, also spoke against the proposal. The mayors publicly expressed concern about financial harm to area businesses, decreased quality of life, and increased crime if the casino project happened.
Supporters of the casino project included Drew Brees, a former Saints superstar. The reports that he hoped to build a steakhouse at Camelia Bay, show he may have had a financial interest in its passing.
Furthermore, the governor delayed the referendum, the only ballot item in St. Tammany parish and the wider election it was part of, from November to December because of repercussions from Hurricane Ida. Most recently, on November 29, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the referendum would proceed. Early voting began that weekend.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment put a lot of time, money, and effort into campaigning for their casino plans.
There are reports that P2E poured about $5 million into their campaign to woo parish voters to their side. They also donated $1 million to relief efforts after Hurricane Ida and had volunteers helping on the ground.
In addition to the estimated 1,000 jobs that possibly could create with the $325 million casino project, the company planned to put $35 million into a community athletic complex next to the new casino resort. They also projected another $5 million for a ring levee in Slidell, emphasizing need with Ida’s destruction.
According to slotsformoney.com, P2E isn’t happy with the election’s outcome but is
“Grateful for the relationships that were created while working on the Camelia Bay project.”
Whether or not P2E will reopen its Bossier City casino within the 60-day limit previously set by the Gaming Control Board remains to be seen; maybe that’s the outcome.
After the totals were in, Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said he believed,
“Crime was the biggest issue,” adding, “We can’t afford to gamble on public safety…We don’t need a casino here to advance and make this parish better.”
Smith called the result,
“A big win for us in St. Tammany.”