On the matter of a casino in Slidell, I stand firmly in the middle of the road, undecided either way. I am, however, fascinated by the debate because so much of it is common to casino arguments.
St. Tammany Parish voters will have a chance to decide, yes or no, next Saturday, Dec. 11, on allowing a dockside casino to locate in Slidell.
First, the case against: For as long as there has been organized gambling there have been concerns that gaming would be controlled by criminals—another opportunity for the Mafia. Truth is, with respect for Episode II of “The Godfather,” the Mafia has had little to do with casinos ever since congress passed the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) act that gave the feds lots of flexibility in busting the gangsters. In modern times organized crime has also had to compete with a much more powerful force that is better managed, wealthier and has the blessings of the government—big business. The dynamics have changed so much that while major leagues sports once shunned towns where there was sports betting, Caeser’s name is now atop the Superdome and the NFL’s Raiders are the home team in Las Vegas.
Back in the ‘60s, when gambling was being debated, there would be predictions of crimes and violence in the streets. Well, that’s half right. There has been both, but not because of gambling. For all we know the jobs created by gambling might help reduce crimes.
On the upside, jobs are always listed as being a benefit of gambling. We can assume that when post-COVID sanity returns people will want to work again. Casinos do not need nuclear engineers but they do provide entry level service jobs that also help develop people skills. Casinos can at least offer a good start into the work force.
In Slidell, the gambling referendum includes building a resort to be called Camellia Bay. (One might hope that the name is derived more from sentiment than fact, a bay filled with camellias could be a hazard for boat propellers.) If approved, a dockside gambling boat, currently named Diamondjack, will relocate from oversaturated Bossier City to Slidell as the centerpiece for the resort, which is supposed to have a hotel, restaurants and other resort-like things.
Dockside gambling (the ultimate evolutionary stage from what started as riverboat gambling) has had many successes, though a few failures—among the latter were a couple of early attempts to operate on the downtown New Orleans waterfront. One was called the Flamingo and the other was a twin boat concept named River Cities. Neither lasted, possibly because the location was so near the Quarter and the city’s downtown. There were too many distractions.
Dockside casinos seem to do better on streams less travelled. Among the best success stories have been Lake Charles and Shreveport/Bossier where the lake and the Red River respectively have provided pleasant but not distracting settings.
A casino resort in Slidell could promote its proximity to Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans yet still draw attention to itself.
As always, there is the moral issue linked to gambling. While not claiming to be a preacher, I can lecture that gambling is it at its most virtuous when it sucks money from Texas. A walk through the casino parking lots in Lake Charles and Shreveport suggest that the angels are working in those places.
A Slidell casino could attract from Mississippi, which already has several casinos, as well as from Georgia and Alabama. The sum of whose willing gamblers might equal the Texas draw.
Now, the fate of an idea that could have a dramatic impact on St. Tammany is in the hands of the parish’s voters. Life, like politics, is frequently a gamble.
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