In 2001, then-state Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat, voted to create a self-exclusion list allowing problem gamblers to confidentially sign up to ban themselves from casinos. Sixteen years later, in 2017, Peterson put her own name on the very list she voted to create. By doing so, she knew entering a casino could lead to a misdemeanor summons.
Every now and then, Louisiana’s political journalists are called on to write about a public figure’s problem gambling. The topic tends to come…
But despite that, Peterson showed up at the L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge in February. State troopers issued her a criminal summons. Then someone leaked the issuing of the summons to WWL-TV.
“I recently learned that a news outlet was preparing to report that the Louisiana State Police had issued a summons as a result of me entering a casino. While the summons is surely a public document — as it should be — it has been confirmed to me that the issuance of a summons to me was leaked by one of the entities responsible for maintaining confidentiality,” Peterson wrote in a statement.
The news of Peterson’s criminal summons spread quickly after WWL reported it. Most local media ran the story. Even national news outlets like the San Francisco Chronicle and U.S. News and World Report picked up the story.
Peterson is a big deal in the world of politics. She’s the current chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, and she holds a prominent position with the Democratic National Committee. But she’s also human and, like the rest of us, has struggles, challenges and shortcomings.
I asked WWL reporter Katie Moore if running the Peterson story was a tough call for the station.
“Oh yeah, we wrestled with it a great deal,“ she said.
The story outed Peterson, forcing the 49-year old legislator to publicly admit she had a gambling problem.
“For many years, I have struggled with a gambling addiction. It is a disease. 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 disclosed in her statement.
The conservative website The Hayride ran a column with a photoshopped image of Peterson’s head over the cartoon body of someone sitting at a blackjack table. The website seemed to be making fun of Peterson’s addiction. The website wrote, “The idea that she (Peterson) got pinched simply for showing up at L’Auberge without any outbreak of nutty behavior doesn’t really wash. “
But East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, who’s now handling the case, told me that such behavior didn’t happen.
Moore says simply showing up at a casino will get you a summons if you are on the list. Peterson could go to jail for up to six months and pay a $500 fine for violating her self-imposed casino ban. Moore doubts that will happen.
“What we want to see is that the person gets help for themselves, and that’s surely the case that’s going on with Senator Peterson,” said Moore.
The self-exclusion list is confidential, but receiving a summons for violating it is not. How tragic if someone tipped the media off about Peterson’s summons in an attempt to damage her politically. Makes you wonder if there’s still a line to cross in politics.
It would also be a shame if someone struggling with gambling didn’t sign up for the self-exclusion list fearing they, too, like Peterson, would be outed.
We should all be pulling for those struggling under the tight grip of a gambling addiction, whether they be in politics or not. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards set the right tone.
“Karen has shown strength and contrition in the face of a difficult situation. Addiction is a terrible disease, and I am praying for her, her family and her recovery,” said Edwards.
Peterson seems to want to stop gambling and realizes she has a problem. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have put herself on the self-exclusion list. To do so, she had to go to a state office in person and have her picture taken. That photo was then distributed to all Louisiana casinos. She must have known as a public figure she was risking her reputation, but she signed up anyway. How courageous. Peterson deserves our empathy, compassion and support.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.