Voters refuse to move casino license to New Orleans suburb

SLIDELL, La. (AP) — St. Tammany Parish voters rejected a $325 million casino project for their New Orleans suburb.

Sixty-three percent of the parish’s voters who participated in Saturday’s election refused to authorize a gambling operation near Slidell, according to unofficial but complete returns released by the secretary of state’s office.

The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports the decision followed a high-temperature and costly battle for votes between the California-based casino developer and an alliance of churches, local businesses and some local elected officials who objected to the project.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment had sought to build Camellia Bay, a casino and hotel, on vacant lakefront land near Interstate 10. The company, known as P2E, bought the land for about $14 million in February.

The casino question was the only issue on the ballot for St. Tammany Parish voters. The secretary of state’s office reports 32% of the parish’s voters — about 60,000 people — cast ballots.

“The voters believed the right information, and this will be a blessing for the parish for years to come,” said John Raymond, a Slidell pastor and one of the opposition leaders.

P2E spent $5 million on the campaign, according to filings with the state Board of Ethics. The company also donated $1 million to Hurricane Ida relief efforts in St. Tammany, according to the newspaper.

“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we are grateful for all the relationships that were created and the time that the community invested in Camellia Bay,” company spokesman Jay Connaughton said.

P2E and St. Tammany Corp., the parish’s economic development agency, had touted the casino project as an economic bonanza that would bring jobs and tax revenue, recapturing some of the estimated $380 million that Louisianans spend each year at Mississippi casinos.

Opponents warned of high social costs, including a feared increase in crime and the siphoning off of customers from local businesses.

Two nonprofits, Watchdog PAC and Stand Up St. Tammany, mounted a vigorous opposition effort with television commercials, billboards and mailers. It’s unclear how much they spent because the heads of the groups said they aren’t required to file campaign finance reports. But Scott Wilfong, of Watchdog PAC, said he anticipated the campaign would reach $1 million.

P2E representatives claimed the opposition effort was funded by rival casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that wanted to preserve their business with southeast Louisiana travelers.

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