Controversial casino proposal shot down in St. Tammany. 63% of voters say “no” | A Tammany
Voters in St. Tammany Parish overwhelmingly defeated a controversial $ 325 million casino project near Slidell on Saturday, a victory for casino opponents following a high-temperature voting battle and costly between the Californian developer and an alliance of churches, local businesses and some local elected officials.
Full but unofficial reports late Saturday night showed 63% of voters rejected plan for Peninsula Pacific Entertainment to build Camellia Bay, a casino and hotel, on a 120-acre expanse of vacant lakefront land near from Interstate 10 twin spans. Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, also known as P2E, bought the land for around $ 14 million in February.
Although the ballot in St. Tammany contained only one item, the turnout was almost 32%, higher than expected, with 59,695 votes cast.
John Raymond, a Slidell pastor and one of the opposition leaders, said he was “delighted” with the results.
âStand Up St. Tammany and Chris Jean were a force to be reckoned with,â Raymond said of the efforts of local business owners to oppose the casino.
Jean was one of the main opponents and, in the final days of the campaign, offered free land for a sports complex in east St. Tammany to counter the casino company’s offer to fund a center. $ 35 million in sports and recreation if the casino was approved.
âIt’s a message from the community that the base is back,â Jean said on Saturday evening.
Raymond said a group of 80 people were celebrating the loss at Wine Market in Slidell, one of the companies that worked against the casino. âThe voters believed in the right information, and it will be a blessing for the parish for years to come,â he said.
P2E spokesperson Jay Connaughton said the company was happy the parish was able to voice their opinion. âWhile we are disappointed with the outcome, we are grateful for all the relationships that have been created and the time the community has invested in Camellia Bay,â he said.
P2E and St. Tammany Corp., the parish’s economic development agency, had touted the project as an economic boon to the parish that would create jobs and tax revenue, recouping part of the estimated $ 380 million that Louisians spend annually at Mississippi casinos. Defeat is also a victory for these casinos.
Chris Masingill, executive director of St. Tammany Corp., said the defeat will not stop job recruiting and investment efforts. âWe know that when it comes to economic development, we can’t win them all. â¦ We are back to work on Monday, “he said.
Although the conservative parish ejected casino games and video poker 25 years ago, supporters were banking on a change in attitude. A sports betting referendum passed with 67% of the vote in St. Tammany last year, winning at all polling stations. But Saturday’s vote reflected the 62% who rejected casino games in 1996.
Opponents have warned of high social costs, including a feared increase in crime and the siphoning of customers from local businesses. At a public meeting, a local pastor said a casino would create a “mecca of immorality, crime and financial fallout.”
Initially, opposition to the project came mainly from churches in the Slidell area, whose leaders said the casino’s deep pockets were making the churches the underdogs in what they called a “David and Goliath” clash.
Indeed, P2E spent $ 5 million on the campaign, according to documents filed with the State Ethics Board. The company had also donated $ 100,000 for the sports complex effort before the vote and donated $ 1 million to Hurricane Ida relief efforts in St. Tammany.
But the opposition was not without means. Two nonprofits classified as welfare organizations, Watchdog PAC and Stand Up St. Tammany, have made vigorous efforts with TV ads, billboards and direct mail. It’s unclear how much they spent – group leaders said they were not required to file campaign finance reports. But Scott Wilfong, of Watchdog PAC, said he expects the campaign to reach $ 1 million.
P2E officials claimed the anti-voting effort was funded by rival casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and in the week leading up to the election, signs making the claim appeared alongside the “Vote CasiNO” signs. Which dotted the parish roads.
Indeed, the loss was a victory for casinos in Mississippi, which, according to an analysis, bring in some $ 380 million a year to Louisiana players.
The election, originally scheduled for November 13, was delayed due to Hurricane Ida. The December date, and the fact that it was the only element of the parish ballot, led to predictions of low turnout, which casino supporters say would favor the opposition.
The anti-casino vote was seen to be more motivated, and even with a slightly higher turnout than in the November election, it turned out to be the case.
Residents of St. Tammany Parish got wind of a potential casino in early February, when P2E made public its intention to move its riverboat license from the closed DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City to the site near Slidell.
It took a parish-wide referendum to overturn the parish vote against casinos in 1996. But before that happened, the state legislature had to approve the putting on the ballot. of the referendum.
St. Tammany lawmakers supported efforts to get a bill passed through the Legislature. But opposition arose almost immediately. Pastors of Eastern St. Tammany Parish and members of their congregation have flocked to town halls and legislative hearings in Baton Rouge to fight efforts to put the issue to a vote.
A controversial spring and summer followed in Baton Rouge, where P2E had 19 lobbyists working for the measure and opponents traveled to the State Capitol to speak out against the measure in hearings.
Some elected officials jumped into the fray, with St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith and Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal opposed. They were followed by Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer and Slidell City Council, among others, including Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser.
Casino opponents also challenged the election on constitutional grounds, continuing to stop the vote in a legal battle that went to the state Supreme Court, which accepted a lower court ruling. that the December 11 elections could be held and the constitutional issues could be dealt with afterwards.
Saturday’s loss makes these questions moot.
Editor Marie Fazio contributed to this report.