Gambling regulators authorized moving a casino license from Bossier City to Slidell.
Wednesday’s decision is a critical step in the legal procedures that could eventually lead to the official closure of Diamond Jacks casino in Bossier City and moving that casino to Slidell, which would be called Camellia Bay.
The proposed $329 million casino resort with a 4-star hotel would be located just off Interstate 10’s Exit 261, the first eastbound exit off the Twin Bridge. It has been the subject of much controversy and several lawsuits.
The next step is for the State Bond Commission to decide on Sept. 16 whether to call a referendum that would put the question before St. Tammany voters on Nov. 13, at least that's what the resolution says. Later Wednesday afternoon, Gov. John Bel Edwards postponed the Nov. 13 election to Dec. 11 because of Hurricane Ida recovery.
One of the most conservative-leaning parishes in the state, St. Tammany has 185,510 registered voters, 81% white and only 23% Democratic. Though placards and advertising cover the parish, December elections generally are low turnout affairs, usually won by the side that gets their supporters to the polls.
The casino is drawing vocal opposition, with most of it coming initially from churches in the Slidell area that are raising concerns about crime and the social ills caused by gambling addiction. But some businesses in eastern St. Tammany have joined in, led by real estate developer Chris Jean, have also begun efforts to derail the election.
A raft of public officials has taken public stands against the casino, including Slidell’s mayor, police chief and the Slidell City Council and St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith. The St. Tammany Parish Council split, mostly on geographic lines, on putting the matter on the ballot, with all but one council member from eastern St. Tammany voting against it and all but one on the parish’s western side voting in favor.
Supporters argue that the casino, when opened in November 2023, would employ a thousand with an average annual salary of $45,000 and would contribute to state coffers an estimated $33.3 million each year gaming taxes. Local governments could pick up about $9 million from the taxes on gambling.
The Gaming Control Board approved a resolution to allow Peninsula Pacific Entertainment LLC to move its license, if a majority of the parish’s participating voters agree. Called P2E, the privately owned company based in Richmond, Va. invests in and controls regionally based casino companies. In 2003, P2E bought controlling interest in Evangeline Downs, the storied thoroughbred horse track near Lafayette.
If the referendum passes, Brent Stevens, P2E’s president, said the company would sell the buildings and property in downtown Bossier City. If they couldn’t find a buyer, P2E would convey the property to Bossier City, probably demolish the casino buildings and hotels, for use as a city park.
The resolution states that if St. Tammany voters refuse to allow a casino, as Tangipahoa voters did in 2017, Peninsula Pacific would have 60 days to reopen its Bossier Parish casino. The company bought DiamondJacks in June 2016 and closed it in May 2020.
Orthodontist Jason Goltz and his wife Chandler, who live near Slidell, filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court questioning the constitutionality of the bill approved and signed into law in June that allowed Gaming Control Board to make the decision it made Wednesday and permit a casino in St. Tammany Parish if voters agree in the referendum.
The Goltzs argue that the new law bypasses the process that had been in place for a quarter century. Specifically, existing laws require first a referendum on whether the parish would allow gambling, then a Gaming Control Board decision on whether to grant a license for that parish. In 1996, St. Tammany was one of the parishes in the state voting to refuse to allow gambling.
Two previous lawsuits aimed at stopping the election have been consolidated and are making their way through the 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington.
Chairman Ronnie S. Johns recused himself from the discussion and vote because as a state senator he had voted on the bills involving the casino move.
Staff writer Sara Pagones contributed to this report