Ronnie Johns, a state senator who recently resigned from the Legislature, has been named chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. His appointment comes as the state is preparing to launch sports betting.
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) this week appointed Johns, a Republican, to lead the board that regulates gaming in Louisiana. The 71-year-old Johns is from Sulphur, near Lake Charles, one of the state’s gambling hubs. That area in South Louisiana near the Texas border is still recovering from two deadly hurricanes that ripped through there last year. One hurricane knocked the Isle of Capri riverboat casino off its moorings in Lake Charles, sending it crashing into a bridge. No one was injured. The casino is expected to open next year as a land-based gambling hall.
Johns submitted a brief letter this week resigning from his legislative seat, saying it was an honor to serve the Senate district for nine years. He stepped down with more than two years left before he would be unable to run again because of term limits, according to the Associated Press.
Johns replaces Mike Noel, who resigned in June as the Legislature was wrapping up its two-month session at the Capitol in Baton Rouge.
If Noel had sought to remain, he likely would have faced legislative questioning about the 2019 death of a Black motorist during a State Police stop in North Louisiana. At the time of motorist Ronald Greene’s death, Noel was the State Police chief of staff, running daily operations. Greene’s death is under federal investigation.
As chairman of the nine-member Control Board, Noel was paid $152,531 a year, the Associated Press reported.
Absent from Veto Session
Some members of the Republican Party criticized Johns for missing the two-day veto session this week, the Associated Press reported.
During the brief session, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to override two of the governor’s vetos. Edwards vetoed one bill that would have banned transgender athletes from competing in school sports and another to relax the rules for getting a permit to carry concealed handguns.
Johns missed the veto session, which ended Wednesday, to undergo knee replacement surgery. Some conservatives accused him of dodging the override session to secure the Democratic governor’s Control Board appointment and the chairman’s salary, according to the Associated Press.
Sports Betting on Horizon
Johns takes the helm as the Control Board is setting the rules to allow sports betting in the 55 of 64 parishes where voters authorized it last November.
The Legislature passed bills this session legalizing sports betting on mobile devices such as smartphones and in person at casino sportsbooks. Bettors also will be able to wager at kiosks in bars and restaurants that serve liquor.
No one will be allowed to place a legal sports bet in Louisiana, however, until the board sets the rules to regulate the industry. Some state officials have said sports betting might not be operational in the state until next year.
Earlier in July, the board issued the first daily fantasy sports betting license to DraftKings, a Boston-based company providing various online sports betting games and contests. In fantasy sports games, players select an imaginary team of real players and compile their stats each week for cash prizes.