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Politics

Ahead of Slidell casino vote in December, St. Tammany residents are split

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Jimmy Lloyd/Flickr
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Camellia Bay Resort will be built near Slidell at the foot of the I-10 Twin Span Bridge (pictured) if St. Tammany Parish residents pass the measure in a Dec. 11 election. Photo taken April 19, 2017.

St. Tammany Parish residents will soon vote on whether to reverse a 1996 election that banned gambling in the parish and allow a casino to open near Slidell. The project has caused controversy between those who would welcome the tax dollars and those who fear a spike in crime and decreasing property values near the site.

Early voting for the measure takes place from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4, except on Sunday, Nov. 28. The election is slated for Dec. 11.

The election was originally planned to take place Nov. 13, but it was pushed back four weeks after Hurricane Ida devastated South Louisiana.

Casinos have been banned in St. Tammany Parish since a popular vote in 1996. In that election, 62% of voters were against gambling in the parish, The Advocate reports.

The Advocate also noted that St. Tammany Parish’s number of registered voters has grown by about 60% in the last 25 years to over 185,000.

Dwayne “Buddy” Lloyd, a Slidell resident and former city councilman from 2010 to 2014, thinks the measure will pass because of the parish’s population growth and because St. Tammany Parish residents won’t be voting against something they hated 25 years ago: video poker machines in restaurants.

“Any restaurant that sold alcohol could have three video poker machines,” Lloyd said. “I mean, everywhere you went, you know, there's the ‘clang clang’ of the video poker machines, and your kids want to go play the ‘games.’”

The new casino would use a state riverboat casino license left unused since Diamond Jacks closed in Bossier City last year. The company that owned Diamond Jacks, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, LLC (colloquially known as P2E), wants another chance to do business in Louisiana.

If St. Tammany Parish voters pass the bill, P2E plans to build Camellia Bay Resort in an unincorporated area just south of Slidell, next to the I-10 Twin Span Bridge.

The casino’s construction is a contentious measure among St. Tammany residents. Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer recently spoke against the casino, and he’s joined by Slidell residents and law enforcement.

In a June press conference, Slidell Chief of Police Randy Fandal and St. Tammany Sheriff Randy Smith spoke against the project, saying that casinos are accompanied by higher rates of crime.

“We see what’s going on across the lake and (in) other areas: a high rate of violent crimes,” Smith said. “We don’t need that here.”

The sheriff said he didn’t trust P2E’s claim that the casino would bring local governments “millions of dollars,” and that he would rather work with St. Tammany Parish’s citizens and businesses to raise the money needed to make the parish “safe and successful.”

Lloyd said preventing potential sources of criminal activity from the community was part of law enforcement’s job.

“But of course,” Lloyd continued, “they're also elected officials. And if people are opposed to (a ballot measure), and they vote, well, you kind of got to be opposed to it, too.”

P2E signed a contract with parish officials in June in which the company agreed to spend $325 million on the construction project and $35 million for a new sports complex in Slidell, and to give 5% of gambling proceeds to the parish government to be used for “public safety, nonprofits and economic development,” according to St. Tammany Corporation’s Chris Masingill.

Lloyd thinks gambling could be a good source of revenue for St. Tammany Parish, which has the highest property taxes in the state.

“And yet, the same people (opposing the casino) complain about high property taxes,” Lloyd said. “If we want to ease the burden on the property owners and diversify our income, what other options do we have?”

Slidell residents are skeptical of P2E’s promises. They are also worried that their concerns as residents of the city, which would be most affected, will go unheard in the parish-wide vote.

Katy Rothschild, Lloyd’s daughter, is a lifelong Slidell resident and mother of two children, ages 7 months and 2 years old. Rothschild plans to vote against the casino because she’s heard that casinos can bring crime and lower property values, but she wishes she could find unbiased information about the benefits and costs of the measure.

“I'm seeing the pro-casino side release all these great stats about unemployment,” Rothschild said. “And then you see (points) against the casino, about the crime and the property values. It's very conflicting. I'm really just struggling to find information for me to make an informed decision.”

She said she isn’t willing to move away from Slidell if the casino opens, but Rothschild and her husband had considered moving to the new, “up-and-coming” neighborhood near the proposed casino site until recently.

“With this, I don't think I could justify moving closer to that area,” Rothschild said. Her family currently lives about six miles away from the site, which she feels is far enough away to avoid any potential negative impacts from the casino.

Rothschild thinks the casino measure will be passed in the parish-wide vote because voters who won’t have the casino “in their backyard” will see the casino “with rose-colored glasses,” seeing only a resort and tax revenue while ignoring the crime Rothschild believes the casino could bring.

Early voting will take place at three facilities in Covington, Mandeville and Slidell. Visit the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website to find your Election Day voting location.

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