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 up when the person in question commits some sort of clear harm in order to feed his or her destructive habit.
Onetime New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas has acknowledged that his gambling losses figured into his decision to accept a career-ending bribe. The late St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta was accused by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury of dipping into his campaign account to gamble; the charges were dropped, but Peralta paid a fine to the state Board of Ethics. Then there’s former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, a half-term state lawmaker and perennial candidate for other offices, who pleaded guilty to using money he solicited from supporters to fuel his gambling habit. There are others who belong on this list, who’ve let their compulsion lead them to clear wrongdoing.
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson does not.
Peterson, the longtime New Orleans legislator who also chairs the Louisiana Democratic Party, went public last week with her struggles with gambling addiction, on the same day that WWL-TV reported that she had received a criminal summons for visiting L’Auberge Baton Rouge casino.
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans almost certainly won’t face prosecution for having illegally entered L’Auberge Baton Rouge cas…
That’s not because Peterson did something wrong, at least not when it comes to any behavior that could hurt others. It’s really because she did something right.
Two years ago, Peterson voluntarily signed up for the state’s self-exclusion list, which calls for police to bar her from gambling at Louisiana Gaming Control Board-regulated establishments and allows for them to issue a summons if she doesn’t comply. For reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense, there’s a potential criminal penalty of a $500 fine and up to six months in prison attached to violating the voluntary ban, although it’s unclear whether it’s ever imposed.
The program, designed to give people with gambling addictions a way to help themselves, is described as confidential on the state police website, which would give Peterson and anyone else a reasonable expectation of privacy.
“The information contained in the Request Form and the self-exclusion list maintained by the Board is not open to public inspection and every effort will be made to maintain its confidentiality,” it explains.
Criminal summonses are public records, though, as WWL reporters have pointed out on Twitter. But if it’s fair game to report their existence, it’s also important to put them in the proper context.
Level-headed East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III appears to be doing just that. After catching this hot potato of a case, he said Peterson has admitted to her addiction to him and advised him on the steps she’s taking to address it, including counseling.
“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. This case doesn’t affect public safety. The action by the person is sufficient to deal with the issue,” he said. That should be the standard for addressing these matters, unless lawmakers decide to go further and remove criminal sanctions, which they really should.
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…
Another question that’s arisen is whether Peterson or someone in her shoes should be heavily involved in legislation that affects gambling establishments. Just last year, she was a point person in Harrah’s failed bid to extend its exclusive agreement to run the state’s only land-based casino in New Orleans. The casino is located in Peterson’s Senate district.
An abundance of caution may suggest she should steer clear of these matters. On the other hand, this is the sort of thing that lawmakers take up all the time. Barring her from involvement would be the equivalent of preventing people battling alcoholism from legislating drunk-driving penalties, or preventing smokers (and reformed smokers) from considering cigarette tax proposals. As conflicts of interest go, state law allows for much worse.
Back when they invited gambling into the state, Louisiana officials acknowledged that addiction is real.
The voluntary exclusion program offers help. People who seek that help — whether or not they’re public figures, and whether or not they lapse — don’t deserve condemnation. And they certainly don’t deserve criminal charges.