By Will Hall, Baptist Message executive editor
SLIDELL, La. (LBM) – The St. Tammany Parish Council voted 11-1, Feb. 8, to allow legislators to submit bills that would allow the construction of a $250 million casino complex, planned for the area east of the I-10 interchange in Oak Harbor.
Essentially, this allows state lawmakers to introduce a bill that will need to pass committees in each chamber of the legislature and then a vote of both chambers as well as the signature of the governor to hold a special fall election.
A similar effort failed 25 years ago, but a recent referendum for sports betting passed in the parish with 67 percent of the vote.
The Slidell project is being proposed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, also known as P2E, which obtained one of the 15 approved riverboat casinos permitted in Louisiana.
Although proponents are promising big returns in terms of jobs, economic development and tax revenue, the project faces numbers of hurdles.
Three years ago, the Los Angeles-based P2E failed in the legislature in their bid to move their Shreveport riverboat casino to Tangipahoa Parish. The project faced opposition from Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, which did not want any competition in siphoning away Louisiana gamblers from Mississippi casinos.
For that matter, a $1.2 billion mega-casino resort was announced in June for Biloxi, Mississippi, just 60 miles away.
But, equally important, already there is a broad religious coalition against the casino that is being led by the Slidell Minister’s Association and the greater St. Tammany Ministerial Alliance.
Then there is the failing health of the gambling industry.
The Louisiana Gaming Control Board annual reports show that total tax revenues generated from all forms of gambling in the state are in a 10-year slide:
— Twelve of Louisiana’s riverboat casinos are losing money, and the three in Lake Charles that are making money draw patrons from Houston and are in peril if Texas approves gambling. To demonstrate the vulnerability of these three casinos, the Shreveport casinos used to draw patrons from East Texas until new tribal casinos opened in Oklahoma, which now captures this market.
— Additionally, Harrah’s in New Orleans once produced more than $90 million in taxes per year, but that amount dropped to $64 million last year.
— Overall, Louisiana tax revenues from gambling have dropped from $738 million (2009) to $706 million (2019).