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California company proposes moving Bossier gambling boat to Tangipahoa

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ROBERT, LA (WVUE) -

The wheels are in motion to move a gambling boat, slot machines, and table games  to the North Shore.

State lawmakers say they could vote on such a plan in a matter of weeks, but other votes will be needed for the move to occur. And if  a casino company out of California gets its way, the quiet waters of the Tangipahoa River could be changing.

"It was a big surprise. I didn't think something like that would show up in this area," said Vernon Gibbs, with 'The Haven' neighborhood association.

For decades, gambling companies have wanted to tap into the North Shore market, and it appears such a move may be in the works. Diamond Jack’s riverboat casino in Bossier City has set the wheels in motion to relocate its boat from the competitive Bossier market to Tangipahoa Parish, where it would literally be the only gambling game in town.

"One of my biggest challenges is creating jobs, and this project is one of those 500 jobs - hotel conference, restaurants - it's a big project," said Tangipahoa Parish President Robbie Miller.

But residents near the tract of land south of I-12 along the river are  worried.

"My concern  is the type of element it would bring in, more traffic, crime," said Gibbs.

But Brent Stevens, the casino company, Peninsula Pacific, says "We don't bring in anything that won't be in concert with the local flavor and culture."

It would be hard to get a gaming riverboat up the Tangipahoa River. It’s not very wide or deep, but the proposal could get a big assist from a plan currently in the works to allow more land-side gambling.

The casino is owned by Peninsula Pacific, a gaming company in Los Angeles that put out a statement saying they wanted to either relocate or expand land-side operations in Bossier, something lawmakers are also expected to vote on.

"Those conference centers are built in place. They are technically boats, but they don't go anywhere," said Miller.

The company has already met with elected officials and says it looks forward to engaging with the public about the move.

"It would be a $100 million project, that would employ 450 people.  When finished, it would include a hotel, an entertainment center, 800 slot machines, and 25 table games", said Stevens. 

But word of the proposal came as a surprise to the head of the Haven subdivision near Robert, which would be close to the proposed casino complex.

"Our community will have a small say, but the rest of the parish may vote it in because it's not in their backyard," said Gibbs.

This project is a long way from being a done deal. At least five votes would need to occur before it could happen, including changes in the laws that allow riverboat gaming.

"There were certain rivers in that legislation, but the one they want to use isn't in that," said Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

 State lawmakers say proposed changes in the  law will likely come up in the regular legislative session in just over a  month.

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