Questions Remain Over Future of Casino in Slidell, LA

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The question of whether St. Tammany Parish residents want to allow a casino in Slidell is one that can only be answered in the voting booth. Now, however, they may not get a chance to speak up. The December 11 vote to determine the casino’s fate may not happen, according to a new court ruling.

Slidell Casino Future in the Air

Legal efforts to stop the Slidell casino vote were dead last month when Judge John Keller of 22nd Judicial District ruled that a lawsuit challenging this election was premature and that the December 11 referendum should proceed. However, an appellate court disagreed last week. This raises the possibility that voters may not be able to vote next month whether Peninsula Pacific Entertainment can construct a $325-million casino resort at the foot of the Interstate 10 twin spans near Slidell.

John Raymond, one the two plaintiffs who sued St. Tammany Parish for violating the constitution of the referendum, appealed Keller’s decision. The First Circuit Court of Appeal agreed with him in a 4-1 vote.

It is not clear if Keller will have a trial on the issues brought up by Raymond, a Slidell pastor, and Charles Branton, a Covington attorney, before the election.

Raymond stated that Keller and attorneys from both sides will meet on Tuesday to discuss what the next steps are. However, time is running out. For the Thanksgiving holidays, the St. Tammany Parish Courthouse will be closed Thursday and Friday. Early voting is planned to start November 27.

Raymond suggested that Keller might set a trial date for the first week of December. However, Mike Lorino, Chairman of St. Tammany Parish Council, stated that the losing side will likely appeal. This process is not something that could be completed before the election.

Plaintiffs claim that Act 362, which was adopted by the Louisiana Legislature in order to allow voting, is a violation of the state Constitution. It asks voters for approval to build a casino in a particular location. They claim that voters must vote first on whether or not to allow gambling before they can vote on the location.

In a brief ruling of one page, the First Circuit stated that Raymond asked for a halt to the vote due to the alleged constitutionality of the method used to call the election, and not the potential outcome of the election. The ruling stated that Raymond could petition the court to obtain an injunction before the election. However, it should be determined whether the merits of the motion are valid.

Fighting Over Semantics

Guy Holdridge, a judge who disagreed with the latest outcome, stated that the proposition should be defeated. He asserted that the “constitutionality of the election should not be tested” before after the election.” The plaintiff could then seek relief to prevent the measure from being enforced.

This reasoning is similar to Keller’s October 7 ruling, which stated that complex constitutional and legal issues raised by the lawsuit should still be considered after the election. He stated that the plaintiffs couldn’t show irreparable harm should the election be held.

Raymond views the appellate decision as a victory and added, “Our point was not to fight the outcome of the election. If the people want the entire parish opening up (to gambling) from here to the Tchefuncte River, they can. We’re not fighting the outcome, but the process that led to an election we felt was unconstitutional.”

Lorino stated that he doesn’t mind hearing anything from a court but admitted that it might have been better for the trial to be over in October.

Jason Harbison, a spokesperson for the casino developers, stated that the company, which intervened in the suit on the parish’s behalf, is eager to win its day in court. He asserted, “St. Tammany Parish deserves the right to vote yes for this economic development project on December 11. We will be leading the charge in court to protect their right. Sadly, the naysayers opposing this project will say anything to keep their neighbors from getting the opportunity to vote yes on Camellia Bay.”

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