Schuetz: Shamelessness Reigns This Week With Louisiana Politics, Operator Snubs

Richard Schuetz

louisiana and us flags

Ten gaming firms made an interesting decision not to attend a meeting with their commissioner friends at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Tuesday.

It was either a classic example of groupthink — which Psychology Today defines as “ … a phenomenon that occurs when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational or non-optimal decisions spurred by the urge to conform or the belief that dissent is impossible” — or maybe the dog ate all of their homework.

Who knows? The general consensus was that it was not smart.

Not to be outshone by the events in Massachusetts that made the industry look bad, Louisiana state Sen. Thomas Pressly has proposed a bill that would permit unlimited gambling political contributions in Louisiana. 

It is rather interesting to note that while the operators in Massachusetts seem to have lost their balls, Sen. Pressly grew an enormous set.

It is obvious that Sen. Pressly has his eye on the prize, for according to U.S. News and World Report, in the publication’s annual rankings of states, Louisiana is ranked 50 out of, oh hell … it is 50, as in bottom, last, and none worse.

I suspect Sen. Pressly’s logic is that since the state is so screwed up, what the politicians should focus on is suckling the gaming industry’s teat as much as possible, for any effort to fix the state is essentially a fool’s errand. If one goes through the different categories used in the ranking, one has to marvel at Louisiana’s consistency. They basically suck at everything, according to U.S. News and World Report

Tales from the Pelican State

I have spent a fair amount of time in Louisiana. In the 1980s, when I was an executive on the Las Vegas Strip, I would travel to New Orleans quite often to entertain our casino players. 

I was even known to rent the Mike Anderson’s Seafood restaurant’s upper deck, which looked out over Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, and that was great fun. We would have a bar set up and great hors d’oeuvres, and I would buy about $1,000 worth of trinkets for our special guests to throw to the folks packed on Bourbon Street. 

The people on Bourbon Steet would look up to us and yell, as was the tradition: “Throw me somethin’, mister,” and provide all manner of incentives for us to notice them — most of which were R-rated. And throw we would. 

It was always a great night and absolutely hilarious.

I mention this to help you understand Sen. Pressly’s attitude, which is truly an aspect of the Louisianan culture. What he is doing is simply shouting, “Throw me somethin’, mister.”

I also spent part of the 1990s in Louisiana, working on two tribal projects for Grand Casinos. There, I became popular among some of the interesting folks in the state. An individual named Cecil Brown contacted me on occasion, and he wanted to welcome me to the governor’s mansion for a poker game held every Thursday night. He also wanted to invite the chairman of the company I represented (who played at nosebleed limits). I also got to talk to the governor, and he also welcomed me to the game. Neither I nor my colleague took up that opportunity, and it was probably best.

Both Gov. Edwin Edwards and Brown spent time in prison for working to shake down gaming operators in the state. This effort even snared the owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Edward DeBartolo. Sometimes, it is easier to stay out than to get out of a Thursday night game.

Atrocious optics

In all of this, there was the curious circumstance of a gaming company publicly supporting Sen. Pressly’s effort to pass his bill to allow unlimited political contributions. No matter the reasoning behind this decision, the optics are terrible. This all reminds me of one of my favorite books, authored by  P.J. O’Rourke, titled Parliament of Whores.

I suspect there are several points to make at this juncture.

First, it is generally best not to stiff a regulatory commission.

Second, there are probably a few things that Sen. Pressly could be doing that may help out the people of Louisiana more than spending his time securing political contributions from gaming companies.

Third, Louisiana does not have too pristine an image when its politicians try to collect money from gaming companies. It seems that people go to jail, lose their teams, and embarrass themselves.

Fourth, there are probably other efforts that gaming companies can embrace that would resonate better with the public other than advocating that they should be able to give unlimited contributions to politicians.

Just sayin’.

The more I witness of this new world of gaming, the more I conclude that it is dire need of adult supervision.

Richard Schuetz entered the gaming industry working nights as a blackjack and dice dealer while attending college and has since served in many capacities within the industry, including operations, finance, and marketing. He has held senior executive positions up to and including CEO in jurisdictions across the United States, including the gaming markets of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno/Tahoe, Laughlin, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In addition, he has consulted and taught around the globe and served as a member of the California Gambling Control Commission and Executive Director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission. He also publishes extensively on gaming, gaming regulation, diversity, and gaming history.