BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A longtime state lawmaker from the Lake Charles area resigned Friday from the Senate to take the helm of Louisiana's gambling regulatory board.
Gov. John Bel Edwards appointed Republican Ronnie Johns, of Sulphur, as chairman of the Gaming Control Board. Johns has been one of the Democratic governor’s longtime allies in the Legislature.
Johns stepped down from his legislative seat to take the position, leaving the Senate more than two years before he'd be forced out by term limits. He'll take charge of the gambling board as it begins to roll out legalized sports betting around Louisiana.
“It has been an incredible honor to have served these last 9 years as the senator for District 27 and with all members of the Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives,” Johns wrote in a short resignation letter that didn't mention his new position.
But it had been known for weeks that Edwards was considering Johns for the chairmanship.
The exiting state senator received criticism from within the Republican Party when he skipped the two-day veto session that ended Wednesday. Johns said he didn't attend the session because he was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Conservatives accused him of avoiding the session to dodge the politically tricky override votes so he could get the Gaming Control Board job and its six-figure salary.
The position was vacant because Mike Noel stepped down from the chairman's job in June, ahead of a Senate confirmation hearing where he could have been questioned about his State Police work during the fatal arrest of Ronald Greene, a Black man whose death remains under investigation.
Greene's arrest has drawn a federal civil rights investigation and calls for further reviews of the State Police's policies and practices. Noel served as the agency chief of staff — running its day-to-day operations — at the time of Greene’s death in May 2019. Noel retired in June 2020 when Edwards named him as the leader of Louisiana’s gambling regulatory board.
Noel received a $152,531 annual salary as chairman of the board, according to state records.
The nine-member gambling board regulates Louisiana’s riverboat casinos, the New Orleans land-based casino, more than 2,000 video poker sites, the slot machine facilities at four racetracks, fantasy sports betting — and soon wagering on live-action sports events.
Board members serve staggered, six-year terms. Johns will need to get Senate confirmation in the next regular session to remain as leader of the Gaming Control Board. A special election will be set to fill the vacant Senate seat representing part of southwest Louisiana.
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