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Gov. John Bel Edwards has appointed Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, to lead the state’s Gaming Control Board, which creates and oversees gambling industry regulations in Louisiana.
Johns is one of the biggest boosters of the gambling industry in the Louisiana Legislature. He’s sponsored several pieces of legislation to ease restrictions on gambling companies– including the relatively new law that allows Louisiana’s casinos to move from riverboats to land. Casinos are large employers and one of the economic engines of Lake Charles, which Johns represents.
The senator is also well respected, well-liked and considered honest and fair by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Still, Johns’ appointment has been under some scrutiny. The Republican senator made no secret that he has wanted this job over the past several weeks, but he ran the risk of offending the governor or his Republican colleagues during the recent veto override session. Johns needed Edwards to appoint him the position, but he also needs his Republican colleagues in the Senate to confirm that appointment in 2022 in order for him to stay in the job next year.
Edwards and Republicans in the Legislature were at odds over the veto override session. The governor was lobbying more moderate Republicans in the Senate — including Johns — to vote to sustain his veto on legislation related to transgender athletes and gun rights. Meanwhile, some Senate colleagues wanted Johns to vote to overturn the governor’s decision.
In the end, Johns avoided having to choose between the governor and his Republican colleagues. He didn’t attend the veto override session at all. He said was recovering from surgery earlier in July and wasn’t able to go to Baton Rouge for the votes. Republican activists accused him of essentially trading his vote for Edwards’ appointment.
Johns will take over the Gaming Control Board at a crucial time for the gambling industry in Louisiana. The board is in charge of granting the new fantasy sports licenses and sports betting licenses. It will also be setting up some of the more granular regulations for the sports betting industry. Additionally, more Louisiana casinos may be applying to move on land, a process which the board oversees.
Edwards has had a difficult time keeping a Gaming Control Board chairman in that job over the last year. The board’s longtime chairman, Ronnie Jones, was forced to step down when Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, blocked his reappointment to the board in the summer of 2020.
Edwards’ replacement for Jones, former state trooper Mike Noel, resigned before his confirmation hearing last month. Noel — who had served as the Louisiana state police’s chief of staff — could have faced questions from legislators at his confirmation hearing about how the law enforcement entity handled the death of Ronald Greene, a Black man who was killed while in state police custody in 2019. It’s also not clear whether the state police scandal might have endangered Noel’s confirmation.
Unlike Jones or Noel, Johns does not come from a state police background and did not previously work in gambling enforcement for a law enforcement agency.
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