State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans almost certainly won’t face prosecution for having illegally entered L’Auberge Baton Rouge casino last month, Hillar Moore III, the East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney, said Saturday.
Moore said he has spoken several times with Peterson over the past couple of weeks since he received the Louisiana State Police misdemeanor summons.
Karen Carter Peterson, who is both a state senator from New Orleans and chair of the state Democratic Party, disclosed in an email Friday nigh…
Peterson, who also chairs the state Democratic Party, acknowledged that she is a compulsive gambler Friday shortly after news of the summons became public. She said she voluntarily put her name two years ago on a list of people who are banned from visiting Louisiana gambling establishments in an attempt to deal with their problem.
Moore said Peterson admitted her gambling addiction to him and has been undergoing counseling. Moore said she has sent him information on the steps she is taking to grapple with the problem, but he declined to provide specifics.
“We try not to prosecute cases where people make mistakes and take the appropriate steps to address their action, as opposed to people who don’t or who commit violent acts,” Moore said. “This case doesn’t affect public safety. The action by the person is sufficient to deal with the issue.
“That’s how we handle just about all of these kinds of self-exclusion violations. You don’t need the criminal justice system to be involved when someone has committed an offense that hasn’t affected public safety.”
Moore said he will probably make a formal decision about Peterson in the next month, but that he would move to prosecute her only if he discovers something that causes him to view her activities more critically.
Someone convicted of the misdemeanor of visiting a casino illegally faces up to a $500 fine and six months in prison — though it’s not clear whether anyone has ever been prosecuted for the crime, given that it’s essentially designed to prevent self-harm.
Moore said he receives a referral for such a self-exclusion ban violation every two or three months.
How many people are on the banned list is not known. The list is confidential.
Peterson, who is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, went public with her gambling problems in an email and Facebook post Friday night, minutes after WWL-TV reported that State Police had issued her a summons.
“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’s case shines a light on a little-known program that is common in states that allow gambling.
Someone gets on the self-ban list in Louisiana by presenting the proper paperwork at one of five State Police offices. A photograph of the person then is distributed to all Louisiana gambling establishments except for the state’s three casinos owned by Native American tribes.
Those on the list cannot seek to remove themselves from the ban for five years and can do so then only after presenting a letter from a doctor certifying that they can “participate in gaming activities without adverse risks or consequences,” according to state law.
Casino companies wouldn’t normally notice that a banned person is gambling in their facility unless the person tries to cash in a jackpot or brings attention to himself or herself. State Police have not disclosed how their trooper identified Peterson.
Casinos that knowingly allow self-excluded people to gamble in their facilities face sanctions from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
The board levied a $100,000 fine against the Belle of Baton Rouge in February for allowing a person on the self-excluded list to gamble at its riverboat casino for more than a year. During that time, the casino signed up the gambler for frequent play cards and promotions.
In her statement Friday night, Peterson said her summons became public because of “an intentional breach of confidentiality regarding a voluntary state program designed to help individuals avoid the negative effects of gambling.”
WWL-TV investigative reporter Katie Moore, who broke the story, tweeted on Saturday that she received the information about the summons through a public-records request. “The only leak of information that was not public (her addiction, involvement in the self-exclusion list) came from the senator,” Moore said.
Peterson is a vocal and often outspoken member of the state Senate who has not minded in some instances being the sole senator who votes against a bill.
She handled the major piece of gambling legislation that came 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 Canal Street casino is in her legislative district.
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 who tried to hash out differences with the House version.
“Her only effort was to make sure the city of New Orleans got its fair share,” said Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego. “She never once pushed hard for Harrah’s or any other casino."
Alario said he didn’t know Peterson was on the self-exclusion list. If he had, he said, he wouldn’t have named her as one of the three negotiators. But, he added, “I have no concerns about her integrity.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards, the state's highest-ranking Democratic official, released a statement Saturday. “Karen has shown strength and contrition in the face of a difficult situation,” he said. "Addiction is a terrible disease and I am praying for her, her family and her recovery.”
Staff writer Jacqueline DeRobertis contributed to this article.