HAMMOND — A proposal to build a casino in Tangipahoa Parish received a mostly positive reception from business people and local officials at a luncheon here Thursday, although some questions were raised about crime, poverty, traffic and drainage.
Los Angeles-based Peninsula Pacific wants to build a $100 million gambling center and hotel along the Tangipahoa River just south of Interstate 12 in the Robert/Bedico area.
The company already owns one of the state's 15 riverboat casino licenses, for DiamondJacks in Bossier City, and is seeking legislative approval to open one in its place on the North Shore.
If the company can get approval from the Legislature, the parish council could put it up for a vote of the people.
Forty-nine percent of Tangipahoa Parish voters recently surveyed approve of a proposed casino resort project south of Interstate 12 on the Tan…
Company representatives pitched the operation Thursday as a "community center" that would include not only a casino, but also a hotel, conference and event center, several restaurants and a potential bass fishing tournament dock.
If legislation passes this year to allow riverboat casinos to sit on land, the company would build its casino on the ground 1,000 feet from the narrow river. If the legislation fails, the company would float the casino on a moat filled with water from the Tangipahoa River to meet state law requirements, company officials said.
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The proposed facility would include a 27,000-square-foot gaming floor with about 800 slot machines and 25 card tables, said Brent Stevens, manager of Peninsula Pacific. Initially, there would be one hotel with 200 rooms, but Stevens said he is recruiting other Louisiana developers to build two more hotels on site.
Stevens said the casino is expected to produce 500 permanent jobs with an average of $35,000 a year in salary and benefits per job.
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Stevens claims the casino could recapture gamblers — and with them tax dollars — headed now to the casinos in Mississippi.
"We think we can get 40 percent of those dollars back, and as a result Tangipahoa Parish gets $22 million in the first five years," Stevens said.
As a sort of proof, Stevens said, "there is a very active group of people trying to prevent this legislation from happening that have interests in Mississippi."
The casino is also facing opposition from Boyd Gaming, which operates a casino in Kenner, and from the truck stop casinos in St. Helena Parish.
Jonathan Swain, a partner in Peninsula Pacific, said if the bill and November vote go as planned, the casino could open in Spring 2020.
Swain said the biggest concerns he has heard from locals are about drainage and traffic.
The casino would be built in Flood Zone AE along a river that flooded twice in 2016.
Swain said the company plans to add one foot of fill and build to accommodate a 200-year flood by using retention ponds. He said there are 1.5 acres of wetlands on site, and he applied last week to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to use the land, meeting mitigation requirements.
In response to traffic concerns, Swain said most of the additional vehicles related to the casino would be traveling at off-peak times, and the company plans to add additional turn lanes to ease the flow.
Company officials assured the business people that they plan to hire locally both for construction and for casino operations. They touted a rewards program that allows frequent gamblers to shop at local businesses with points earned at the casino.
"Any project that would look at Tangipahoa and offer this significant number of jobs, and this type of investment would make us all stop and think and carefully discern what our decision might be," said Melissa Bordelon, president and CEO of the Greater Hammond Chamber of Commerce.
But some people questioned whether it would help impoverished communities in the parish.
"People are going to leave Independence, go there and spend their money at the casino and …, in turn, the businesses in Independence are going to suffer because the people are not going to have any money," said John Polito, the fire chief in Independence.
Alton Lewis, of First Guaranty Bank, said he has spoken with mothers and grandmothers concerned about crime and the impact on the children of the parish.
Stevens responded by asking the group to think of the project as economic development and saying the company's casinos in other states have not led to crime.
Pam Deters, a doctor in the parish, said she is in favor of the project, but she wants to know how the casino would address behavioral health issues, such as gambling addiction.
Don Marshall, the constable for Ward 8, the area including the casino, said in an interview he is personally undecided, but he wants the people to have that choice. Citing the recent floods, he said he wants to see the casino owners supporting law enforcement and fire protection and to provide drainage plans.
"If they'll go above and beyond and be part of the community, I would consider voting for it," he said.