Johns considered to head Gaming Board

John Guidroz

State Sen. Ronnie Johns confirmed Friday that he has been mentioned as a potential appointment to chair the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. The seat became open after the June 9 resignation of Mike Noel, who potentially faced questions regarding his work with State Police during the arrest and death of Ronald Greene in May 2019.

The governor appoints the Gaming Control Board chairman, a position that calls for regulating Harrah’s land-based casino in New Orleans, 15 riverboat licenses, racetracks and video poker machines.

Johns, a Sulphur Republican, said Gov. John Bel Edwards knows of his interest in serving as gaming board chairman. Johns expects Edwards will appoint a new chairman in the coming weeks, especially since the gaming board needs to move forward with writing rules for sports betting and vote to have them implemented.

“It’s at his discretion when to do it,” Johns said. “He understands the importance of having a chairman in place.”

Edwards appointed Noel as gaming board chairman in June 2020. At the time of Greene’s arrest, which remains under investigation, Noel was the State Police chief of staff. Troopers initially told Greene’s family that his death occurred following a car crash. An updated statement was released, stating that troopers struggled with Greene during the arrest and that he died en route to the hospital. The arrest sparked further outrage after bodycam footage showed troopers punching, dragging and using a stun gun on Greene.

Johns, who has represented Senate District 27 since 2012, said he is honored to be mentioned as a potential Gaming Control Board chairman.

“The job does require someone with higher integrity and someone who can maintain a very compliant, clean and pristine industry,” he said. “It’s a full-time job.”

While Johns has not been offered the role of chairman, he said he would be honored to serve. If appointed, Johns — who has two years left as senator before he would be term-limited — would have to resign from the Senate, he said.

“It’s just a very important position,” Johns said.

Johns said the gaming industry is now the single largest source of private industry revenue for the state budget, bringing in nearly twice as much as oil and gas, and nearly 10 percent of the state general fund. He said all casinos, racetracks and video poker bring in $850 million.

Another issue potentially facing the gaming board is an item on the November ballot to move a riverboat license from Bossier City to Slidell. If approved by voters, the board would be tasked with approving the move and making sure plans follow state laws.

Along with the gaming control board dealing with applicants, the Attorney General provides the legal arm of the regulatory process, and the State Police gaming division does investigative work.

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State Sen. Ronnie Johns reads to students at University United Methodist Church in Lake Charles.

Rick Hickman

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