Louisiana lawmakers move along Northshore casino proposal

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A proposal that could lead to a new casino in St. Tammany Parish was advanced Wednesday by Louisiana lawmakers.

House Bill 702 calls for a referendum in the parish for voters to decide whether one of the state’s casino licenses can be moved from Bossier City to just outside Slidell. License holder Pacific Peninsula Entertainment closed DiamondJacks Casino in Bossier City last year.

Louisiana allows 15 licenses for river-adjacent casinos. An additional land-based casino operates in New Orleans.

“We can’t just allow this license to sit there in limbo,” said Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, who also noted letting the parish vote to permit a casino is consistent with historic practice.

The Shreveport-Bossier market is considered oversaturated, in part because of competition from Native American casinos in Oklahoma, said Matthew Roob with Spectrum Gaming, a consulting firm that has produced a study reviewing the state’s gaming industry. On the other hand, a new casino on the Northshore could attract one-third of the Louisiana patrons currently gambling in Mississippi, generating $27.2 million in annual revenue for the state, he said.

Opponents, however, said the actual revenue the casino will bring in is unknown, as are the social costs associated with the project. A new $1 billion-plus casino resort being built in Mississippi will outdraw the smaller facility planned for Slidell, they said.

Several opponents who live near the potential casino site said it was unfair to let residents in high-income neighborhoods farther away be involved in the decision and benefit from the new revenue while the Slidell area will face the brunt of the problems associated with the facility, such as problem gambling, higher crime, lower property values and prostitution.

“We know that casinos don’t make good neighbors,” said Will Hall with the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “The state has to start investing in something other than gaming.”

The Senate Finance Committee advanced the bill to the Senate floor with a 5-4 vote.