Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Local pollster says casino’s margin of victory would be close

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2018 | Views: 3182

Local pollster says casino’s margin of victory would be close
By: Tony Licciardi

A survey about a proposed casino and resort in Robert, LA was conducted by the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center earlier this week. Results showed that 49% of respondents approved of the idea, 31% were opposed, and 20% were undecided. What do these results mean for the likelihood of the casino project becoming a reality? How did Tangipahoa Parish get to this intersection, or traffic circle, as the case may be?

In 1996, Louisianans voted on whether to allow video poker and/or riverboat gaming parish-by-parish, in what is described as a local option election. For parishes like Tangipahoa that approved riverboat gaming, state legislation was enacted to “tie” riverboat gaming licenses in that parish to a specific waterway in that parish. For Tangipahoa Parish, that waterway is currently Pass Manchac. Because state legislation tied the Tangipahoa license to the waterway at Pass Manchac, only an act of the state legislature can change the waterway to another waterway, in this case, the Tangipahoa River. State law also requires that individual casino licenses and projects must get approval from the voters in parishes where those projects are proposed. Thus, even though riverboat gaming was narrowly approved by the voters in Tangipahoa in 1996, the proposal for the casino in Robert on the Tangipahoa River must still be voted on and presents more hurdles than if the project were to locate in Pass Manchac.

The Gauntlet of Votes
Legislation for the proposed casino in Robert is being handled by State Senator Bodie White(R) of Baton Rouge, LA, whose district meanders through the Florida Parishes and into Tangipahoa. Speculation is that State Representative Steve Pugh(R) of Ponchatoula will file a concurrent bill in the LA House of Representatives, so that the project can move along swiftly. Pugh represents the area in Robert where the casino is proposed. White and Pugh will have to shepherd their bills through the Senate’s Judiciary B committee and the House’s Criminal Justice committee, then to their respective chambers for floor votes.

Filing a bill does not guarantee that it will ever be put on a calendar by a chairman of a committee. Committee chairman are very powerful legislators who can keep legislation from seeing the light of day by simply not scheduling a bill for a public hearing. White and Pugh will likely seek political cover in the form of a resolution in support of the project from the Tangipahoa Parish Council, before they take it to a public hearing at the Senate and House committees. A resolution of support would require a vote of Tangipahoa’s ten parish councilmen, where at least six would have to vote in favor of the resolution.

Should White and Pugh receive a resolution in support of their bills from the Tangipahoa Parish Council and have a hearing at the Senate and House committees, a majority of the committees’ members will have to vote in favor of the legislation to send it to the Senate and House floors for voting of the entire membership of each body. Then, a majority of each chamber will have to vote in favor of the bills for them to move forward.

It is likely that the original bills might be modified or amended and a series of additional conference and joint committees would follow to move the bill forward. Ultimately, any finally- approved bill would be sent for the governor’s signature. Failure of any one of these series of votes, or failure in the calendaring of the bills at the committee, or failure in calendaring of the bills for floor voting, would result in the legislation in support of this casino project being killed.

If the legislation does pass and is signed into law, then a resolution must be passed by a majority of the Tangipahoa Parish Council to put the proposal on the ballot for a vote by Tangipahoa Parish voters. If this resolution is passes, the Tangipahoa Parish Government then must get approval of the Louisiana Bond Commission to place the proposal on the ballot. In a parish wide election , fifty percent +1 of votes must be cast in favor of the proposition for the casino project and license to be approved for the Robert casino.

How likely is it that the proposition would pass a vote of Tangipahoa voters? UNO’s survey reports that 49% of registered Tangipahoa voters currently approve of the project, 31% oppose it, and 20% are undecided. The survey sample is representative of the registered voter population in Tangipahoa versus a population of those who actually vote. Actual voting-populations vary from registered voter populations and election types. Voting populations in Tangipahoa Parish are often older, whiter, and more Republican in representation than is the registered voter population. The UNO survey revealed that respondents fifty-five and older were less approving of the casino proposition and more Republican Party identifiers disapproved of the proposal than approved of it. In an actual election, the margin of victory would be far closer than is the broader public opinion of registered voters.

The Campaign - PACs, Lobbyists, Special Interest Groups, and Grassroots
The campaigns for and against the proposed casino are in their infancies. Special interests with very deep pockets on both sides of the proposal are gearing up. Gaming interests in Louisiana will be divided on the issue. Casinos in Bossier will be glad to invest in their competition leaving town, while local video poker casinos in nearby St. Helena parish, video bingo halls in Tangipahoa, and other hall bingo interests will not want to see more local gambling competition. Even casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will view this proposal as adverse to their business interests and will employ their lobbyists to invest in defeating the proposal in Tangipahoa Parish.

Gambling political action committees (PAC)s will attempt to sway state senators, house of representative members, and parish council members both ways on the issue. Remember that the gambling special interest groups, lobbyists, and PACs will be divided on the proposal.
The religious community, who opposed all forms of gaming in the 1996 local option election and video bingo in Hammond in 2008, will be involved in grassroots mobilization of their members to lobby state and local decision makers against the casino proposal.

For those interested in political and public policy processes, this proposition/lesson should be robust in content. One of my first and favorite classes as a graduate student in public administration was “Bureaucracy and Democracy.” We learned about policy entrepreneurs, policy window models, and punctuated equilibriums. It’s reassuring to know that the theoretical underpinnings of my formal education remain relevant, interesting, and important, even at the local level.

About the Author
Tony Licciardi is a political science doctoral candidate and researcher at the University of New Orleans where he teaches courses in Louisiana Politics and State and Local Government. He is a former Hammond City Councilman and has served on a number of local boards, committees, and commissions.