Millions are being poured into a political battle in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, over a casino proposition. As voters are set to decide on December 11 on a $325 million casino resort near Slidell, developer Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (P2E) has been reported as spending a millionaire sum in an effort to sway residents.
While the developer is keen on building the casino, opposing businesses, certain officials and faith-based interests who oppose it are also campaigning hard to influence the election. Total spending on the issue could reach nearly $3.5 million, reports The New Orleans Advocate, making it likely the most expensive political battle in St. Tammany.
As a result of these efforts, mailboxes in the parish have been stuffed with flyers, billboards have been placed on roadways and television commercials have begun hitting the airwaves. Although the fierce battle has taken many people by storm, former chair of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board Ronnie Jones said this wasn’t unexpected.
“Nothing about what I see happening in the St. Tammany area surprises me,” Jones said, according to the previously cited news source. “If you look at any other state, there are always turbulent wars between developers and citizens opposed to gambling for a variety of reasons.”
Camellia Bay, Peninsula Entertainment’s proposed venue, is a $329 million casino resort to be located on vacant land near the Interstate 10 twin spans. According to the developer, it would generate about $33.3 million each year in gaming taxes, plus bring jobs and business options to the north shore.
The casino’s political committee, The Northshore Wins, filed a Nov. 12 campaign finance report which showed over $2.3 million in contributions from Aug. 26 through Nov. 1, and expenditures of just over $1 million for the same time period, according to NOLA. The next report is due Wednesday.
P2E’s efforts to win the December election have also included a $100,000 donation towards a family-oriented sports complex located in the parish and a promise to spend $35 million on the venue should the casino be approved. The company also donated $1 million to Louisiana Coastal Relief and Recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Last month, Peninsula Entertainment also commissioned a study on the project’s potential impact, which showed “a moderately positive” economic impact on the city of Slidell and the parish, while finding few negative impacts, results which have been found as “encouraging” by the developer.
Furthermore, the Louisiana Supreme Court has overturned an appellate court ruling that would have removed the gaming referendum from the Dec. 11 election ballot. Two opponents of the casino had sued to stop the vote, arguing that the process to put the matter before voters was unconstitutional.
Opponents are campaigning against the project through billboards, campaign signs and TV ads, among other measures. Opposers include certain local restaurants and small businesses, as well as St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith, Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal, and Pearl River Police Chief Jack Sessions.
Other elected officials opposing the casino include Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and the mayors of Slidell, Mandeville and Madisonville, plus other local officials. Nonprofits Watchdog PAC and Stand Up St. Tammany are campaigning against the venue.
If north shore voters approve the casino, Camellia Bay could open as soon as November 2023. The waterfront casino resort is set to feature pools, local and celebrity chef restaurants, and a 4-star hotel, among other amenities.