Karen Carter Peterson, who is both a state senator from New Orleans and chair of the state Democratic Party, disclosed in an email Friday night that she has a gambling problem — minutes after WWL-TV posted a news story reporting that she had violated a ban on entering Louisiana casinos.
A Louisiana State Police trooper issued her a misdemeanor summons for violating a self-imposed ban when she gambled at L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge last month, the station reported.
A State Police spokesman confirmed that his agency issued the summons but declined to comment while the misdemeanor charge is under review by Hillar Moore III, the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney.
In her email, Peterson said she has suffered from a gambling addiction for years.
“It is a disease,” she wrote. “From time to time, I have relapsed; I have let myself down as well as family and friends who are near and dear to me.”
Peterson said she has struggled with the gambling problem for years. One effort to stop it came two years ago when she voluntarily entered a program that made it illegal for her to enter almost any Louisiana gambling establishment.
“Under this program, I consented to allowing any of these officials who see me in a gambling establishment to escort me out and to issue a summons,” she wrote. “Recently while experiencing challenging times, I violated my voluntary ban and was issued a summons. The program worked as it should. I certainly regret failing to uphold my agreement to avoid casinos.”
Peterson said she was going public with her gambling addiction because someone had leaked the State Police summons to a media outlet, presumably WWL-TV.
Her visit to the casino came six days after she held a sold-out fundraiser in New Orleans that featured Stacey Abrams, who became a national figure in the Democratic Party after narrowly losing the governor’s race in Georgia last year.
“Celebrating a Bright Democratic Future,” read the invitation to the event.
Peterson, 49, is seeking a third and final term in the state Senate this year, after serving a decade in the state House.
She was elected chair of the state Democratic Party in 2012, defeating former Congressman Buddy Leach, who had sought to retain the position.
In 2017, she was named vice chair of civic engagement and voter participation for the Democratic National Committee, and she has spent considerable time out of Louisiana in that position.
Peterson did not respond to a text message seeking comment Friday night. While vocal on the floor of the Legislature, she generally shuns reporters.
The news of the misdemeanor summons and her gambling addiction is bound to raise questions about Peterson’s future, beginning with whether she ought to run for re-election and remain as the state party's chair during an election year.
On Monday, the executive director of the state Democratic Party, Stephen Handwerk, who runs the party's day-to-day operations, had sent out an email condemning his counterpart in the state Republican Party, Andrew Bautsch, for getting arrested on allegations of trespass and battery against a police officer in a New Orleans hotel, hours after his marriage.
A spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday night that Edwards had no comment on Peterson's situation.
Peterson could also face ethical questions. While she had banned herself voluntarily from gambling establishments, she handled the major piece of gambling legislation before lawmakers last year. It would have extended the state license for Harrah's to operate the only land casino in New Orleans for another 30 years. The controversial measure died on the final day of the session, with the House and Senate deadlocked over competing measures.
Peterson was the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate, testifying in favor of it and serving as one of the Senate’s three negotiators to try to hash out differences with the House version.
In 2016, Peterson sponsored a bill approved by the Legislature that also was sought by Harrah's. It gave the casino company wider latitude to meet the minimum number of employees it is required to employ.
In her email, Peterson asked for forgiveness.
“I am sorry for the hurt and embarrassment my actions have caused my family and friends,” she wrote. “My commitment to my recovery and using my self-care tools will only grow stronger as a result of this experience.”