GAMBLING POLITICS A BAD DEAL

Published: Friday, December 10, 1993
Edition: THIRD
Section: METRO
Page: B6
Type: EDITORIAL

Text:

We have suggested a number of times on this page that Gov. Edwards and the Legislature have run roughshod over the will of the people on the gambling issue, especially casino gambling. It comes as no surprise to us, therefore, that a new statewide poll finds that the state's voters would shut down casino gambling, riverboat and land-based, and all other forms of recently approved gambling except the lottery, if given a chance.

"If given a chance" is the key phrase. The people of Louisiana, with few exceptions, have not been given a chance to express their views on the various forms of gambling. The governor and the Legislature have colluded to deny most efforts at local control of the location and licensing of the New Orleans land-based casino and riverboat casinos.

The original riverboat gambling statute did provide a brief "window of opportunity" for local voters to petition their officials for a referendum if they wanted to opt out on riverboat casinos. After that provision expired, special amendments were passed to permit voters in Ouachita and Calcasieu parishes a say on the issue. Ouachita voters issued a resounding no to gambling boats; Calcasieu has not voted, and a gambling boat is expected to open on Lake Charles this month.

For the most part, however, the governor and the Legislature - or at least a majority of its members - have decided that they know what is best for the people without giving them much say on an issue that affects their lives and their areas' futures in a variety of ways.

What the people have witnessed is government almost by decree: The Legislature, pressed on by the governor, has virtually decreed that New Orleans will have a land-based casino, that it shall be located at a particular site, the Rivergate, and that there shall be riverboat casinos around the state regardless of local opposition.

And in the awarding of the various casino licenses, political cronyism has been impossible to miss.

Small wonder that the poll, done by Southern Media and Opinion Research Inc. of Baton Rouge, finds that 51 percent of those surveyed would discontinue plans for the land-based New Orleans casino if given the chance. The same percentage oppose it even in the New Orleans area despite proponents' promises of an economic boom.

Statewide, given a chance, 54 percent would discontinue riverboat gambling and 59 percent would say no to video poker.

Significantly, the survey finds that the state's voters have little confidence in the ability of their public officials to regulate legalized gambling properly.

Thus the issue boils down to one of trust, or the lack thereof. And that could prove to be costly for some pro-gambling gubernatorial, legislative, parochial and municipal candidates.

If the findings in the poll hold up, or even increase, gambling could harpoon Mr. Edwards' re-election prospects. Almost 57 percent of the respondents said "none at all" when asked how much trust they had. Mr. Edwards sneered at the gambling survey just as he did at other recent polls showing him with extremely low ratings among the voters.

Now, lo and behold, pressure is building to permit riverboats to remain at dockside on the Mississippi and elsewhere, essentially converting them into land-based casinos. Given the level to which gambling-based politics has sunk in Louisiana, who would bet against the effort?

The fact is that there is more than ample basis for the distrust reflected in the polls, and the governor can try to laugh that off if he likes.


Copyright The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.