A proposal to bring gambling to the Northshore in southeast Louisiana is meeting stiff opposition from a coalition of religious leaders throughout St. Tammany Parish.
COVINGTON – A proposal to bring gambling to the Northshore in southeast Louisiana is meeting stiff opposition from a coalition of religious leaders throughout St. Tammany Parish.
The issue has united a broad section of religious leaders – from non-denominational to evangelical. In 1996, the people of St. Tammany voted overwhelmingly – 75 to 25 – to ban gambling.
However, late in December Parish President Kevin Davis proposed the establishment of an entertainment district, which would be anchored by a floating casino, along Lake Pontchartrain’s eastern shore as a way to increase revenue in the parish and to offset property taxes.
According to Davis’ office, the district would include a hotel, restaurants and shops, and a venue where entertainers could perform. He estimates the complex would generate $8 to $11 million annually in local tax revenue and would be a certain economic boon for the parish.
Waylon Bailey, pastor of First Baptist Church Covington disagrees.
“Gambling promises but never delivers,” Bailey said. “This parish has already made its feelings known about gambling, and it was an overwhelming NO. Frankly we were shocked when it was brought.
“We first heard about the proposal in late December,” Bailey said. “At this time of the year [Christmas holidays] people are busy and it is not a busy news time. So, it didn’t get a lot of attention.”
A five-person group led by Bailey met to discuss the proposal and to set up a meeting with Davis to voice their objections.
They met with the parish president, voiced their concerns and prayed for him [Davis].
“We have always had a good working relationship with Kevin,” Bailey said. “I believe he knows this is morally and spiritually wrong and his motives, while misguided, are strictly from an economical standpoint. We prayed for him – sincerely and fervently and respectively requested he pull this proposal.”
Two weeks passed after the group’s initial meeting with Davis but the proposal was not pulled. Instead Davis went ahead with plans for a study by the University of New Orleans and set up a “fact-finding” trip to Lake Charles to see that areas boats and to meet with local leaders.
“When the proposal wasn’t pulled,” Bailey said. “It was decided to organize further. We got great support from our Director of Missions [Lonnie Wascom] and other Southern Baptist Churches in the area. More importantly, we got support from Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Pentecostals, and even the Mormons.
“Our group called itself “Citizens for Quality of Life,” Bailey said. “If the churches had not done this, there wouldn’t have been any organized opposition. Our strategy was to hit this issue fast and hard by doing it in a way that would honor God. I became the group’s spokesman.
“It is a quality of life issue,” Bailey continues. “Many non-believers may not fully understand the Biblical issues surrounding gambling but they do understand quality of life issues.”
For the proposal to pass, Davis must present his plan to the Parish Council, which must pass a resolution asking the Louisiana Legislature to call an election to overturn the parishwide ban on riverboat casinos and video poker, as enacted in 1996, and Governor Bobby Jindal would have to sign off on it.
“The legislative body representing this area are firmly against it,” said Wascom. “It might pass at a local level but they [the legislative body] said they would not bring it before the Legislature. Governor Jindal, who has spoken in many pulpits in our Southern Baptist Churches, said he is against it.”
Bailey and the “Citizens for Quality of Life” don’t even want it to reach that point. They want the proposal killed at the local level. It was decided in order to do this it was time to take the issue public. The group called a press conference and alerted all media – newspaper, TV and radio – outlets.
“We want St. Tammany to continue to be a place where people want to live,” Bailey read from a prepared statement. “We believe in God, we believe in family, we believe in work. Because we believe in these things, we strongly oppose the introduction of any form of gambling in St. Tammany Parish.
“We call on our elected leaders to quickly remove this threat to our way of life,” Bailey concluded. “Gambling is not what the citizens of St. Tammany signed up for.”
Standing behind him were 45 pastors, preachers and church leaders. There were more than 100 people in the audience.
Since the press conference the 14 parish councilmen have been inundated with phone calls, letters and emails, according to Wascom. “People have gotten passionate about this issue. Baptists and other denominations have stood tall, and this issue has brought a lot of people together,” Wascom said. “If we could only be this passionate about missions and evangelism, then there wouldn’t be a lost soul. It has captured the hearts of a so many people of so many denominations.”
Citing facts from the National Association Against Legalized Gambling [NCALG], Bailey states a casino isn’t the answer to a community’s economic problems. He said the promises made about the lottery and casino has never come to fruition.
“Gambling proponents claim so much but unfortunately gambling never lives up to those claims. What it does do is lead to a number of social ills,” Bailey said. “When it gets a foothold, it eats away at the fabric of a community.
“People in this parish have a good quality of life here. They are very proud of this parish and they don’t want to see anything that would come in here and ruin it. This issue has resonated with the people in this community,” Bailey said. “I believe the council is feeling the pressure.
“I understand the trip planned to Lake Charles was cancelled for lack of participation,” Bailey said. “We’ve had a lot of people working the phones, so I know they have been getting an earful.”
The council’s regularly scheduled meeting is tonight (March 5) at 7 p.m. and Bailey says the council chamber holds about 200 people. “We plan on packing that room,” Bailey said. “We want this defeated at the parish level and not have the legislature or governor have to deal with it.”
Bailey said Southern Baptists across the state could do two things.
“First, pray for the believers in St. Tammany Parish for what we are trying to do, and secondly, read the [Baptist] Message to see what happens tonight at the meeting. If we must, we will send out a Macedonian call to the state and ask our brothers and sisters to contact their state representatives and senators for help.
“Because if they can do it here, it means they can do it anywhere in the state,” Bailey said. “And they [the gambling industry] are not going to stop. They are going to keep coming and coming, and we must stop them.
“The message we deliver tonight will be delivered with love and in a kind, gentle manner. We will tell our councilmen and women to please not gamble with our futures. Kill this proposal.”