With the July 23 appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board now has its head honcho.
A champion of gaming in the state, Sen. Ronnie Johns, from Lake Charles, will head up the control board. The selection ends an almost two-month vacancy that has stalled the implementation of sports betting in the Pelican State.
The appointment doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Johns had recently confirmed that he and Edwards had spoken regarding the board’s open position. (There is, however, some controversy over Johns missing a veto vote prior to the appointment. More on that in a bit.)
Johns has resigned his Senate position in order to accept the appointment, saying he is “excited about this new opportunity to serve our state in a broader capacity.” He added that gaming is the “largest single private industry source of revenue for the state budget” and that he would work to “ensure the integrity of gaming in Louisiana.”
Johns’ appointment comes on the heels of two other board positions recently filled by the governor – one a renewal.
At the time of Johns’ Senate resignation, two more years remained in the last of his three allowed terms.
Johns comes in with Louisiana gaming credibility
The district Johns represented has three Vegas-style casinos, making the gambling industry one of the area’s largest employers.
Johns joins the Louisiana Gaming Control Board with a history of enthusiastically supporting gaming in the state.
His involvement has included:
- Co-sponsoring the legalized sports betting bill
- Sponsoring legislation to allow riverboat casinos to move to land
- Sponsoring legislation easing restrictions on gambling businesses
- Serving as both chairman and member on the Louisiana Lottery Corporation’s Board of Directors
- Verifying the reliability of “geofencing,” which will block sports betting in the nine parishes that did not approve it
New gaming chair served in Senate since 2012
Johns, 71, had represented District 27 in the Senate since his election in 2012. He previously served in the House of Representatives from 1996 to 2008.
Johns also sits as a board member of both CHRISTUS Health Southwestern Louisiana and the Metanoia Foundation, which helps adolescent victims of human trafficking. His work on behalf of foster children and adoptive parents earned him recognition as an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute. The United Way of Southeast Louisiana also recognized him as a Legislative Champion for Public Policy for his work on human trafficking.
Born in Bunkie, Louisiana, Johns graduated from Northeast Louisiana University, now known as the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Before getting into politics, Johns worked as a pharmacist and later opened his own insurance agency in Sulphur.
Missed veto session causes a stir
In a controversial move, Johns missed a recent veto session during which he would have voted on the override of a bill deemed as discriminatory against transgender athletes, among other bills that Edwards had already vetoed.
Johns claimed he had to miss the vote on doctor’s orders following an orthopedic surgery. Some criticized his inaction. They claimed Johns stayed home out of political expedience — not wanting to jeopardize his possible appointment by going against Edwards — rather than medical necessity.
Appointment paves way for sports betting in Louisiana
While the state legislature hashed out the details of legal sports betting in Louisiana, efforts to craft the regulatory framework had stalled because of the leadership vacancy on the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
“One of my first responsibilities as Chairman,” Johns said, “will be to promulgate all the regulations for this new gaming program in the state.”
He will need to be confirmed in the next regular Senate session.
Before resigning in June, Johns’ predecessor, Mike Noel, had expressed optimism about legal betting launching by early 2022. (Noel faced a confirmation hearing that could have included questions about the death of Ronald Greene while in the care of state troopers.)
Once a new framework is settled upon by the now-complete Louisiana Gaming Control Board, licensed operators can roll out regulated wagering in 55 parishes.