Lafayette Parish Councilor Kevin Naquin during his 10 years in office tried to come up with sales taxes and property taxes to generate more money for parish services, mostly to no avail.
Now he wants the council and voters to consider allowing legalized gambling in the parish 25 years after voters rejected the idea.
In the early 1990s, river casinos and video poker were gaining ground in Louisiana. In September 1996, voters approved a state constitutional amendment allowing local governments to list local gambling options on their ballots.
Voters in Lafayette Parish, presented in November 1996 with the option to only allow video poker, voted no at a rate of 57% to 43%. As a result, the Evangeline Downs Racecourse moved from Carencro in Lafayette Parish to St. Landry Parish, where voters had approved video poker and river casino games.
“I always wanted to try and bring it back up,” Naquin said.
Naquin, first elected to the parish’s city council in 2011 and in his final term on the new parish council, said on Tuesday voters don’t want to pay more property or sales taxes to generate money for the services. It may be time, he said, to reconsider legalizing gambling, especially as voters recently agreed to allow online sports betting.
He doesn’t want video poker machines at every gas station, Naqin said. He suggested that Lafayette might consider a river casino on the Vermilion River near a planned new development for the old Trappey Cannery.
Gaming revenue, Naquin said, could subsidize existing tax revenue and contribute to recurring operating expenses for services such as lane and bridge maintenance.
Naquin said his intention was to start the conversation and get input from the council and others.
Attitudes toward gambling, like the legalization of marijuana, have changed since the vote 25 years ago, he said.
“It’s not the devil,” Naquin said. “If so, this whole state is the devil because everyone else is doing it.”
Parish councilor John Guilbeau said he had questions about the matter, such as how much the parish would receive. Already, Guilbeau said, he received negative feedback on the idea.
Guilbeau warned against any attempt to make the parish a “mecca of gambling” because there are consequences, such as social problems, that come with gambling.
Former Lafayette mayor-president Joey Durel led a Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce committee in 1996 that studied gambling and its impact on communities. The committee and chamber members voted to oppose gambling in Lafayette Parish at the time.
Durel said Wednesday that if the issue was on the ballot again, he would still oppose it.
The crime rate in Biloxi, he said, increased as casinos entered and other businesses were lost. The game did not turn St. Landry Parish and Lake Charles into thriving communities, he added.
Durel said he felt the people of Lafayette Parish would not support the game 25 years after voting against it.
“I don’t think you wanted that atmosphere,” he said.
If the residents of Lafayette Parish are unhappy with the services they receive from the government, Durel said, “they should vote for a tax.”