By Baptist Message staff
SLIDELL, La. (LBM) – Louisiana Baptist pastors in St. Tammany Parish rejoiced about the resounding vote, Dec. 11, against a proposal that would have brought casino gambling into Slidell.
By a margin of 63 percent against (37,664 “nays”) and 37 percent for (22,031 “yeas”), voters rejected
a proposal to build a $325 million casino complex in an area east of the I-10 interchange in Oak Harbor.
DAVID DEFEATS GOLIATH
The Slidell project was proposed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, also known as P2E, which owns one of the 15 approved riverboat casinos permitted in Louisiana (for a bankrupt and defunct Shreveport casino that they proposed to move to Slidell). Former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was among those who backed the proposal.
According to WWL-TV, more than $3 million dollars was spent on advertising to get residents to vote in favor of the casino. Opponents spent $1 million to fight against the proposal, WWL reported.
Proponents had promised big returns in terms of jobs, economic development and tax revenue.
Three years ago, the Los Angeles-based P2E failed in the legislature in their bid to move their now closed Shreveport riverboat casino to Tangipahoa Parish. The project faced opposition from Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, which did not want any competition to siphon away Louisiana gamblers from Mississippi casinos. On top of that, a $1.2 billion mega-casino resort was announced in June for Biloxi, Mississippi, just 60 miles away.
But, equally important, a broad religious coalition against the casino was led by the Slidell Minister’s Association, the Ministerial Alliance of Greater St. Tammany, as well as the congregations of the Northshore Baptist Association.
Importantly, pastors were joined in their opposition by local law enforcement officials.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith, Slidell Police Chief Randy Fandal, Covington Police Chief Mike Ferrell and Mandeville Police Chief Todd Schliem voiced strong concerns about a probable increase in human trafficking linked to casino gambling.
Waylon Bailey, pastor, First Baptist Church, Covington, noted that St. Tammany Parish voted in 1996 to ban casino gambling, and was elated about residents coming out in large numbers to again to defeat a casino measure.
“We were thrilled with the voters of St. Tammany Parish who seemed to understand both the moral principles and simple financial principle of gambling,” Bailey said. “I think they understood that this doesn’t do anything for an economy. In fact, it drowns the economy.
“We are pleased with the coalition that came out and it included churches and business owners,” he continued. “And it was ordinary people that saw the proposal for what it was.”
David Cranford, pastor, First Baptist Church, Ponchatoula, and the immediate past president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, echoed the thought.
“Churches, pastors and Christians stood up,” said Cranford, past president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “My home parish can be marked safe from the expansion of gambling, for the moment.
“The larger problem now is a state government that is addicted to gambling tax revenue,” he continued. “The state will make another attempt to move that 15th casino license somewhere else in our beloved state. It’s just a question of ‘Where?’ Christians must continue to be watchful and careful to elect state legislators committed to purging our state of this addictive, ruinous vice.”
Will Hall, director for the Louisiana Baptist Office of Public Policy, worked to assist the faith community to rally parish voters to oppose the planned casino.
“I am proud of the various pastor groups, including the Slidell Ministers Association and the Ministerial Alliance of Greater St. Tammany, and local church fellowships, like our own Northshore Baptist Association, who took a stand in the pea patch and allowed God to bring a victory!” he said. “Although too many of our legislators succumbed to the money and influence of the gambling industry in this matter, our faith community did not waver.”
Don Pucik, missions strategist for Northshore Baptist Association, also voiced appreciation for the churches who God used to speak against putting a casino in the area.
“Several of them suffered a great deal of verbal abuse for simply being obedient to His leading,” Pucik said. “Pray with us as we seek Him to transform the Northshore into the hardest place in North America to go to Hell from.”