SLIDELL, La. — Two of St. Tammany Parish’s top law enforcement leaders called an eleventh-hour news conference on Tuesday asking the parish council to put on hold plans for a $325 million casino and entertainment resort near Slidell.
Sheriff Randy Smith joined Slidell Police chief Randy Fandal in arguing that the project could cause an increase in crime to the Slidell area while rejecting the idea that the project would bring in millions of dollars to the local economy.
“We work hard, and we rely on our citizens to keep St. Tammany one of the safest parishes in our state. We see what's going on the other side of the lake and other areas - a high rate of criminal activity and violent crime. We don't need that,” Sheriff Smith said.
The news conference comes exactly one week after the parish’s state legislative delegation praised the project as a great deal for St. Tammany Parish and a day before the parish council’s special meeting for public comment.
Following the press conference by the law enforcement leaders, a statement was issued on behalf of Parish President Mike Cooper.
"President Cooper stands by his original statement of wanting the voters of St. Tammany to decide on the casino."
Smith said that several faith-based groups have raised concerns to him about the project. He asked for anyone who opposes the project to join him at the council’s special meeting.
Sheriff Smith said that there have been no studies on if the project could increase crime in the parish. Instead, he cited FBI statistics which he said show an increase in human trafficking, prostitution, substance abuse, thefts, divorce and suicide rates in areas near casinos. Smith did not provide additional information about those specific statistics or when or how the data was collected.
Smith and Fandal said they were not against gambling but encouraged residents to go to New Orleans or Mississippi to gamble because those areas are “established.”
“They have casinos and folks here support those casinos. I'm not against gambling. We just don't want that in our parish.”
“Slidell is not a booming area as far as entertainment and I think folks like it that way. I just don’t see a casino as the answer,” Smith said.
The sheriff said he also does not believe the project will bring in the revenue that developers claimed it would bring to the parish.
The project, proposed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, would be on a 50-acre waterfront site near Slidell and include a 250-room hotel, incorporated convention space, outdoor amphitheater with pool and event space. Last week, State Sen. Sharon Hewitt and other lawmakers said the dedicated convention space would put Slidell on the “conference trail” bringing additional events to the parish.
More than a decade ago, former Parish President Kevin Davis faced strong opposition when he floated the idea of a gaming complex in the Slidell area. But current Parish President Mike Cooper said he thinks public sentiment has changed.
The project still faces some legal hurdles - including having St. Tammany voters undo a 1996 referendum in which they rejected casinos and video poker.
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