A bill allowing for a St. Tammany Parish referendum on whether a casino should be built in the area was passed on Thursday with overwhelming support from legislators in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
The vote took place a day after the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Mary DuBuisson, asked her colleagues to delay voicing their opinion on the measure as there were “a few questions that need to be answered” before it could be put up for a vote.
House Bill 702 moved out of the full House floor after a 63-28 favorable vote. The overwhelming majority was 10 votes more than Rep. DuBuisson needed in the 105-member lower chamber of Louisiana’s Legislature.
The piece, if it takes effect as a law, will authorize a local referendum in St. Tammany Parish on whether the City of Slidell should host a proposed $250 million casino. The property would be built at Interstate 10’s Exit 261 along Lake Pontchartrain, just outside city limits. The vote is set to take place in October.
The piece now heads for consideration in a Senate committee. It needs to be passed by Senate legislators before being sent onto Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk for a final signature. A twin bill by Sen. Sharon Hewitt has been stuck in the Senate Finance Committee for several weeks now as its author has been unable to muster the necessary votes to advance the measure to the full floor.
What’s Next for HB 702?
Rep. DuBuisson’s bill is now likely to be assigned to the Senate Judiciary B Committee as it deals with gambling matters. However, this could cause the piece to stall. Sen. Hewitt’s identical measure narrowly moved out of that committee by a 4-3 vote in April.
One of the yes votes, Sen. Mike Fesi, has been absent because he tested positive for Covid-19 a few weeks ago and HB 702 would not be able to advance with a 3-3 vote.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, P2E, a Los Angeles-based developer, is the company that pitches the Slidell casino project. The company wants to build a $250 million gambling complex with slot machines, table games, and multiple other amenities such as a lazy river and water slide.
It currently holds one of Louisiana’s 15 casino licenses. Up until last spring, the company operated the riverboat DiamondJacks Casino in the saturated Bossier City market. However, it decided to shutter it permanently when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
P2E now seeks to transfer its vacant license to Slidell. It says that a casino in that region could generate more than 3,000 temporary and full-time jobs and over $60 million in new annual tax revenue and could help the state stop losing millions to neighboring Mississippi gaming establishments.
However, the project is facing staunch opposition from religious groups who fear increased gambling could prompt an unwanted spike in crime and addiction.
With less than a month left of the regular legislative session, any possible hurdle before the Slidell bill could derail it and eventually kill it.
Source: Slidell casino bill passes Louisiana House; here’s what happens next, NOLA.com, May 13, 2021