Louisiana gambling board chairman removed by state Senate

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The head of Louisiana’s gambling regulatory board has been ousted by state senators who refused to confirm his reappointment on the final day of the regular legislative session.

Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, was among 11 appointees selected by statewide elected officials to serve on boards and commissions who did not receive approval Monday from the Senate, according to a list provided to The Associated Press.

Senators debated the confirmation decisions behind closed doors in an executive session. They didn’t discuss the appointments publicly, but rather crafted a list of hundreds of appointees who were confirmed in one vote. Jones wasn’t on that list.

“There’s not a whole lot I can really say about that,” said Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who chairs the Senate committee that holds confirmation hearings and manages the process.

Jones, an appointee of Gov. John Bel Edwards, said Tuesday he was blindsided by the decision.

“It was a total surprise to me,” he said. “After the Senate had adjourned, I got a call from a staffer with the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. He said, ‘I have to tell you that you were not confirmed.’ I said, ‘Excuse me?’ He said it again, and I said, ‘Wow.’”

The Senate traditionally has given individual members the privilege to block confirmation of appointments from their home districts to boards and commissions. No reason has to be given. Jones said he lives in the New Orleans district of Democratic Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday.

Hewitt said she could not say what objections any senator may have raised to reconfirming Jones for the position he’s held since August 2013, or comment on how many senators objected to the confirmation.

“All of those discussions would happen in executive session, and so I’m not able to share any of that,” she said. “I’m sworn to confidentiality, as is every senator and staff member that was involved.”

The 11 people who weren’t confirmed to their jobs included appointees of Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain. One of Strain’s top assistants, Fred Bass, was refused by the Senate, and former Rep. Walt Leger was rejected for his position as president of the New Orleans convention center board.

Besides Jones, two other members of the Gaming Control Board received approval for their appointments, Hewitt said.

The nine-member board regulates Louisiana’s riverboat casinos, the New Orleans land-based casino, more than 2,000 video poker sites and the slot machine facilities at four racetracks. Board members serve staggered, six-year terms.

Jones, a retired state police deputy superintendent, was appointed chairman of the board by Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal. Edwards, a Democrat, reappointed Jones in July.

Jones had worked at the state police for three decades and helped the agency oversee the roll-out of riverboat casino and video poker licensing and regulations in the 1990s. He started with the Louisiana State Police in 1974 as a trooper.

“This isn’t how I anticipated 46 years (of state service) wrapping up,” Jones said. He added: “I respect the process, but I don’t think it serves the citizens of the state very well.”

Edwards’ office didn’t immediately respond about the Senate’s refusal to allow Jones’ reappointment as chairman of the board. Jones said he lives in the New Orleans district of Democratic Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who didn’t immediately return a phone call Tuesday.

Hewitt said everyone who didn’t receive confirmation from the Senate was notified Monday night. She said Jones’ ouster takes effect immediately.

“If you’re not confirmed by the time we adjourn, you are out of job,” she said.

Jones said he cleaned out his New Orleans office Tuesday. Edwards will have to appoint someone else to the position, who can start in the interim and will have to be submitted for confirmation in next year’s regular legislative session.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

By: MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

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