For the past 19 years, Mike and Nok Pervel have left their homes in Mandeville on the Mississippi Gulf Coast almost every weekend, drawn to the excitement of live music, entertainment, food and gambling at the casinos which are a short and easy drive away are.
The couple's favorite haunt is the Hollywood Casino and Resort in Bay St. Louis, where they've been regulars since the days it was called Casino Magic. The casino resort employees, from bartenders to parking attendants and vendors, are practically a second family. And other couples she met while standing in line or sitting next to each other at the slot machines have become such a close group of friends that Pervel's daughter-in-law called them the "Hollywood Hustlers."
Despite all of her affiliation with Hollywood and other Mississippi casinos, Mike Pervel said he would welcome the opportunity to play closer to home at the $ 250 million casino resort proposed in eastern St. Tammany Parish.
A $ 250M casino resort in Slidell is on the table, but will it happen? See plans, outlook
"Let's build in Slidell. That cuts my drive by 40 minutes," said Pervel, who moved to St. Tammany Parish after his military career.
The ability to keep Louisiana players at home is exactly what casino developers looking to build near Slidell rely on. These players counted 3.3 million visits to Mississippi casinos in 2018.
Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, known as P2E, currently holds one of Louisiana's 15 gaming licenses for the now-closed DiamondJacks in Bossier City. This riverboat, which the Los Angeles-based company bought with a plan to relocate its license, was the lowest-performing casino in the market, according to Spectrum Gaming Group, which conducted research for state agency Louisiana Economic Development in 2018 .
After talking to a few elected officials from St. Tammany Parish for months, P2E went public last week with plans to build a 250-room casino and hotel on 100 acres of open land just off Interstate 10.
A casino on the north coast is hardly a new idea. This 2018 spectrum analysis recommended moving two of the state licenses from the Shreveport / Bossier City market, which is now losing customers from North Texas to tribal casinos in Oklahoma. In the report, the north coast was identified as one of two underserved areas, while the Monroe / Tallulah area is the other.
P2E tried to move the license to Tangipahoa parish three years ago, but a bill to hold a referendum on voting in that parish has died in the legislature.
The north shore of Lake Pontchartrain is a preferred location because of the money Louisiana residents now pour into casinos on the Mississippi coast to the east. More than $ 380 million is paid annually, according to Spectrum analysis, which looked at Mississippi Gaming Control, the board's estimate of 3.3 million visits in 2018 by Louisiana residents and an average spend of $ 118 per visit .
"If Louisiana can repatriate half or 30% of that, that would be great," said Matt Roob, Spectrum senior vice president of analysis. "It creates jobs in Louisiana, tax dollars in Louisiana … it's not how I cut the cake, it's how I make the cake bigger?"
Even so, casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana are likely to see the prospect of a new competitor askew.
"When the proposal was made to bring him to the Tangipahoa community, the New Orleans area casinos were not at all enthusiastic about the idea," said Ronnie Jones, former chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. "I suspect they'll be moving pretty vigorously to keep the market to themselves."
As for the Mississippi casinos, "They don't want (Louisiana) to siphon off any of their business … nobody wants to lose market share," he said.
That is already in sight, according to Jay Connaughton, a local developer spokesperson. "We are confident that our project will stop the cash flow to Mississippi with a full range of resort amenities and world-class entertainment," he said in an email. "That's why the Mississippi Gaming Association is already calling lobbyists in Louisiana."
The first major hurdle is controlling a measure through Louisiana law that allows a special election for St. Tammany voters to decide whether to allow gambling. The St. Tammany Parish Council will meet at 6:00 p.m. Monday to vote on a resolution asking the legislative delegation to submit such a bill to the Baton Rouge legislature later this spring.
Before Slidell Casino can vote in the St. Tammany poll, the following must first be done
P2E is already meeting with local officials to generate support and has agreed to pour money into noncasino projects to gain community support: $ 30 million for a sports / family entertainment complex and $ 5 million – dollars for a Slidell ring dam.
The proposed Slidell Area Casino could be a win or a loss to the Harbor Center, the chairman says
The company has also agreed to share 5% of its earnings with the local government. The company anticipates that when combined with the taxes the casino resort will generate, the local government will make $ 10 million a year.
“When you look at casino deals across the country, there's always a lot of horse trading going on. Sometimes that's enough to take advantage of local support,” Jones said.
This vacant lot just off Interstate 10 is the proposed location of a 250-room casino and hotel that would cover approximately 50 acres of 100-acre open land east of the Blind Tiger restaurant in Slidell, La. Monday, February 1, 2021. (Photo by Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)
If voters agree to allow a St. Tammany casino, the newcomer to the market must attract players who are now loyal to the Mississippi casinos. Players tend to go to places that are most convenient, Roob said.
"There's the wear and tear of your car, gas money, your time," agreed Mike Pervel.
But Mississippi still has a few advantages.
The casinos there pay a lower gaming tax rate. A Bay St. Louis casino would pay a total of 12.5% taxes and fees, including state and regional taxes, the spectrum analysis says. In comparison, a so-called Louisiana model would pay 26%.
That gives the Mississippi casinos more money to motivate players with freebies for their regular customers, from overnight stays to meals to free spins, said Jones, calling this a competitive advantage.
"Casinos have solved the problem of brand loyalty," said Jones. "As soon as they identify a customer, they keep looking for them."
When the closer to home casino comes off, Pervel will consider the incentives as a factor.
"I would sign up for their players' club card, see what the amenities are, what they offer you … who could have the better amenities," he said.
Margaret Rennie, a Slidell resident who is also a loyal Hollywood customer, said she likes everything about the casino except the drive.
"If a casino were to open in the Slidell area, I'd like to consider changing my loyalty. But the new casino would have to treat me like Hollywood-free gifts, meals, cruises, etc.," said Rennie.
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