One lesson from the past couple of years is that, nearly three decades after Louisiana turned to gambling as a revenue generator, it’s here to stay.
Last year, voters in 47 parishes approved online fantasy sports betting, and the Legislature voted to allow riverboat casinos to come ashore and to relax rules for video poker at truck stops. This year, lawmakers are considering proposals to adopt live sports betting, and seem to have agreed to terms to extend the lease for Harrah’s New Orleans Casino.
That doesn’t mean all is well. Critics correctly predicted back when the state set this course that some people would have trouble with problem gambling. Every now and then the general public gets a reminder when someone who's high-profile falters.
The latest public figure to do so may be former Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts, who abruptly resigned earlier this week after a decade and a half on the council. Roberts has not been charged with any crime, but he’s been caught up in a wide-ranging federal investigation involving his finances. The Advocate reported this week that Roberts’ high-stakes gambling habit piqued the feds’ interest, and has prompted them to examine whether his financial woes ever led him down a corrupt path.
Roberts wouldn’t be the first. Among those who’ve succumbed in the past are former New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas, once considered a likely future mayor had he not pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Then there’s David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, half-term state representative and perennial candidate for higher office who admitted using money he solicited from supporters to fuel his habit.
State Sen. and Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Karen Carter Peterson hasn’t been accused of any corruption, but she too found herself in the headlines recently for a related concern. As part of a little-known state program, Peterson voluntarily put herself on a list of problem gamblers who should not be allowed into Louisiana casinos, then received a summons for visiting one.
Gambling may or may not be eventually linked to Roberts’ financial difficulties. But the news is yet another reminder that, while state coffers benefit from its proliferation, for some people there’s quite a cost.