Louisiana’s Chief Gaming Regulator Ronnie Johns Retiring After 37 Years of State Service

Posted on: May 15, 2024, 02:06h. 

Last updated on: May 15, 2024, 10:06h.

Louisiana Gaming Control Board (LGCB) Chairman Ronnie Johns is retiring after nearly four decades of public service.

Louisiana Gaming Control Board Ronnie Johns
Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Johns (far right) participates in what was his final groundbreaking ceremony of a casino project on Dec. 13, 2022. Johns has announced his retirement from public service effective June 30. (Image: Shreveport Times)

Johns’ retirement will become effective June 30. Before then, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry (R) is expected to name his successor.

Johns was appointed to the top gaming regulatory position in July 2021 by then-Gov. John Bel Edwards (D). Johns said he wasn’t asked to step down by Landry, who assumed the governor’s office in January, but is simply ready to spend more time with his wife Michelle.

I’m about to be 75 years old and Michelle and I have things we want to do,” Johns told USA Today. “This is a full-time job.”

Johns’ political career began in 1978 when he became a member of the Sulphur City Council. He was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1996 and became a state Senator in 2012. He served in the legislature’s upper chamber until being nominated to the LGCB.

Johns’ tenure in Baton Rouge wasn’t without controversy. The day before Edwards appointed him to the LGCB, Johns missed a vote to override the governor’s veto of a bill that sought to remove a state law that required Louisiana gun owners to undergo training before obtaining a concealed-carry permit.  

Johns said he had a “bum leg” and couldn’t attend the session. The override was three votes shy in the Senate.

Louisiana lawmakers passed a similar permit-less concealed carry bill this year that Landry signed.

First Gaming Expansion in Decades

During his tenure running the agency that governs one of the country’s richest gaming states, Johns oversaw considerable change.

Johns’ LGCB reign included the first major expansion of gaming in Louisiana since the lottery, casino riverboats, and video poker were authorized in the early 1990s. The expansion came by way of the introduction of retail and online sports betting.

Casino sportsbooks began taking bets in October 2021, just months after Johns was sworn in, and online sports gambling platforms went live the following January.

Johns’ time at the LGCB also included overseeing more than $1 billion in investments in the state’s riverboats, some of which have become land-based properties.

Louisiana lawmakers passed legislation in 2018 allowing riverboats to move inland, so long as the new brick-and-mortar casinos remain within 1,200 feet of their original barges. The law came after several devasting hurricanes destroyed or greatly damaged the floating gaming vessels.

Johns’ LGCB supervised Caesars Entertainment’s more than $200 million investment to overhaul the Isle of Capri Lake Charles riverboat that was damaged by Hurricane Laura into a rebranded brick-and-mortar casino. The all-new Horseshoe Lake Charles Hotel & Casino, a 60,000-square-foot property, opened in late 2022. 

Live! Coming to Bossier City

More recently, Johns helped ensure that the state wouldn’t lose a casino after the future of the shuttered DiamondJacks riverboat was in peril. The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore developer of mixed-use developments and casino resorts, last fall agreed to take on the deteriorating property.

Cordish is investing $270 million to develop Live! Casino & Hotel Louisiana. The integrated resort property will feature a 550-room hotel and a casino floor with over 1,000 slot machines, 40 table games, and a sportsbook.

Johns said during a groundbreaking ceremony in December that the Cordish project ensures that the “Shreveport-Bossier gaming market has a bright future.”

Hopefully, Johns’ future after almost 40 years of elected office and public service is bright, too.