Effort to allow casino boat in St. Tammany gets thumbs down from Parish Council

Friday 6th March 2020

St. Tammany Parish officials came out decisively against filing any bill in the upcoming legislative session that could lead to a referendum on allowing casino gambling in the parish, adopting an off-the-floor resolution to that effect at Thursday night's Parish Council meeting.

Council members and Parish President Mike Cooper said they had not been given any advance warning that a casino group was going to publish a public notice saying that such a bill might be filed.

The notice was published in the St. Tammany Farmer late last month by a group hoping to get a lawmaker to sponsor a bill that would allow a casino boat to move from Bossier Parish to the Slidell area.

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Councilman Jacob Airy said that since District 13 in the Slidell area, which he represents, is the largest coastal part of the parish, he presumes that's where a casino operator would want to put a boat, but no one consulted him. "I just found out in the newspaper like everybody else," he said.

The council's resolution stressed that the public notice did not have the parish government's authorization and has nothing to do with any attempt to bail out the parish from its impending budget crunch following the defeat of sales tax renewals in 2018.

The council and administration are committed to implementing cost-saving measures and higher efficiency with current revenues before considering any possible future revenue source, the resolution said.

"It's not that we're against anything," Council Chairman Mike Lorino said. "It's the simple fact that the parish government was not notified properly in our opinion; definitely the Parish Council was not notified. And we think that we need to have a long look at this and not rush into anything helter-skelter, and that's the purpose of this resolution."

Cooper said that he thinks the public notice was a testing of the waters and stressed that no bill has been drawn up. "It was simply the overzealousness of the casino organization to have an opportunity, because of a filing deadline, to lobby for such (a bill) this session," he said.

He said the resolution makes clear that no one in parish government approved the idea, and that lawmakers he has talked to have no intention of filing such a bill in this session.

Councilman Mike Smith said he doesn't think a casino is a good idea for St. Tammany. It was soundly defeated by voters in the past and likely would be again if brought to a referendum, he said. But he suggested tabling the resolution until April to allow the public to comment on it.

But Airy argued that it was important to pass the resolution now. "I don't think a lobbyist would have filed this notice without at least some level of certainty that someone was going to sponsor the bill. It seems odd to me ... that someone would just unilaterally file this without some indication," he said.

Councilman Jerry Binder agreed. Whether or not there is someone behind the scenes "that we don't know of" trying to move a gambling boat to St. Tammany, he said he found it disturbing that someone would put forward something of such magnitude without showing courtesy to the parish president and council and the people they represent, as well as the legislators.

"Future revenue sources is something, if it has to be considered, it would be considered in the future," he said.

The council adopted the resolution unanimously.

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