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After contentious — and costly — Slidell casino election, St. Tammany voters reject proposal

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.
Jimmy Floyd / Flikr
Camellia Bay Resort would've been built near Slidell at the foot of the I-10 Twin Span Bridge (pictured) if St. Tammany Parish residents had passed the measure in the Dec. 11 election. Photo taken April 19, 2017.

A $325 million casino project slated for Slidell was shot down by voters in St. Tammany Parish after a bruising, expensive campaign that saw millions of dollars in outside spending from both sides.

The voter referendum — which would’ve have reversed a 1996 election decree that banned casino gambling in the parish and allowed the development of the proposed Camellia Bay Casino and Resort in Slidell — was rejected 63% to 37%, with 168 of the 170 precincts reporting results as of 9:38 p.m.

The proposed casino sparked immense controversy in St. Tammany, pitting proponents who touted the economic benefits and tax dollars from the project against opponents who claimed the project would cause a spike in crime and decrease property values near the site.

At a election watch party for opponents of the casino plan, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith said he was happy to see the referendum defeated. "I believe crime was the biggest issue. We can't afford to gamble on public safety. It's a big win for us in St. Tammany," said Smith. "We don't need a casino here to advance and make this parish better."

The race also attracted millions of dollars in campaign spending. The political action committee supporting the casino project, Northshore Wins, ended up spending more than $5 million, according to campaign finance reports. Watchdog PAC, one of the organizations opposing the project, wasn’t required to file campaign finance reports because it’s classified as a social welfare group. But organizers told Fox8 that the group spent at least $1.5 million on their anti-casino efforts.

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.

But earlier this year, a campaign to bring a casino to St. Tammany started gaining momentum.

In February, casino developer Peninsula Pacific Entertainment announced it was hoping to relocate the riverboat license it owned for a shuttered Bossier City casino and build a new casino and resort in Slidell, as reported by The Advocate.

A few months later in June, the casino operator announced a proposed deal with St. Tammany Parish. The company said it would 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 Masingi.

Those plans are now shelved — likely indefinitely — after Saturday’s election result.

Patrick Madden joined WWNO in 2019 as its first-ever Regional News Director, overseeing news reporting at WWNO, as well as our partner station WRKF Baton Rouge. Madden also serves as one of the hosts of Louisiana Considered, and co-hosts Friday's Politics Roundtable on Louisiana Considered with Stephanie Grace, columnist for The Times-Picayune | The Advocate.

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