State legislatures in Baton Rouge will have to work quickly to ensure that voters from St. Tammany Parish and Slidell have an opportunity to voice their thoughts on a potential gaming venue in the region. The new venue would be built next to the Blind Tiger eatery in Slidell if voters approve of the construction. However, the session is set to adjourn next month and lawmakers have yet to confirm whether the referendum vote will take place or not.
As the end of Louisiana’s Legislature session for 2021 draws closer, lawmakers in the House and Senate will need to hash out issues and come to a consensus on a bill that would allow voters from St. Tammany to have their say on the region’s long standing prohibition regarding commercial gambling. This is a result of a casino operator’s request to relocate its casino venue to Slidell. SB 213, a proposal that would allow voters this right, was passed on to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. Unfortunately, this bill has since stalled since entering the Senate Finance Committee.
As a result of this, A republican representative, Mary DuBuisson, has opted to introduce a House bill, HB 497, which contains identical legislation to the Senate’s proposal. HB 497 has since passed the House’s Administration on Criminal Justice with a 8-2 vote. The bill sponsored by DuBuisson has now moved to the house floor for further considerations. Should it pass in the House, HB 497 would then make its way to the Senate. It would then need to pass two more chamber committees and a vote held by the Senate before it can be passed on to the Governor, John Bel Edwards, for his signature.
P2E, or Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, has requested to relocate its Louisiana gaming license to Slidell for its DiamondJacks Casino venue. The operator believes this market to be more attractive and would be able to capitalize on 100% of the market share until other operators arrive. If the referendum in November shows that the majority of residents in the region approve of the construction, the company has vouched to spend $250 million on constructing a Lakeshore Marina casino resort.
The legislation that is being considered in Baton Rouge would not authorize the operator to constrict this casino but would instead allow voters from the parish an opportunity to share their opinion on the matter. Regardless of the referendum’s outcome, lawmakers are determined to back the majority vote. DuBuisson has shared that she introduced her own version of the bill because she believes that voters should be given the opportunity to vote on the project.
As it stands, there is some opposition to the proposal from the operator. The Louisiana Family Forum and several religious organizations have been campaigning against the referendum. Will Hall, from the Louisiana Baptists Organization, stated that there will be no new business opportunities for locals near the casino. He added that the state’s Department of Health has revealed statistics indicating that the number of problem gamblers in Louisiana has tripled since the activity was legalized in 1993.
A representative from the House, Denise Marcelle, reiterated that the legislation would not be allowing the expansion of gambling but would rather be considering the relocation of one of Louisiana’s 15 commercial casino venues.
A poll conducted recently has indicated that the majority of voters in the parish would like to decide whether the relocation will take place. However, it is possible that the lawmakers and processes will not afford them this opportunity. The operator has stated that they would prefer for locals to determine the fate of the casino. The Slidell casino could create around 2,600 jobs for locals.
While 1,600 would be in construction, the remaining 1000 would provide Louisianians with permanent positions at the venue. This would result in the unemployment rate going down and a host of other social and economic benefits.
As incentive for support, P2E offered the state $30 million to construct an entertainment and sports complex at the Lakeshore Marina, its potentially new site, and a further $5 million to aid in the construction of the ring levee in Slidell.