Louisiana gambling board leader resigns before Senate vote

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s gambling regulatory chief Mike Noel told the governor Wednesday that he’s resigning, preempting a Senate confirmation hearing where Noel could have been questioned about his State Police work during the fatal arrest of a Black man whose death remains under investigation.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office said Noel’s departure as chairman of the Gaming Control Board will take effect Thursday.

The Democratic governor’s spokesperson Christina Stephens didn’t respond to questions about why Noel was leaving the post, if it had to do with his State Police tenure and Ronald Greene’s death or whether Edwards thought Noel might have trouble winning confirmation from the Senate.

“The governor is appreciative of his service at the Gaming Control Board and will work to find a suitable replacement for Mr. Noel,” Stephens said in a text.

A longtime State Police veteran, 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 didn’t return messages from The Associated Press.

No senators have publicly raised concerns about confirming Noel to continue working as chairman of the gambling board, but he didn’t appear for either of his scheduled confirmation hearings. And the head of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Ted James, wasn’t supportive of Noel’s leadership job at the gambling agency.

“I had concern with giving somebody who was deeply involved in what I perceive was a coverup any type of promotion,” James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said Wednesday.

James doesn’t vote on confirmations as a member of the House. Senators debate the confirmation decisions behind closed doors in an executive session, offering no explanation for their decisions. They’re scheduled to vote on confirmations Thursday — without Noel on the list.

Greene died in May 2019 after he was stunned, punched and dragged by state troopers. His death is the subject of an ongoing federal civil rights investigation.

Troopers initially told Greene’s relatives he died in a crash following a chase on a rural road near Monroe. Later, State Police issued a short statement saying that troopers struggled with Greene during his arrest and that he died on the way to the hospital.

The Edwards administration only released the body-camera video of Greene’s arrest more than two years later after The AP publicly released footage that it obtained. No troopers have been charged in Greene’s arrest.

A secret State Police panel set up in response to Greene’s death and three other violent stops of Black men is investigating whether troopers in the northeastern part of the state have systematically targeted Black motorists for abuse.

Edwards named Noel to the Gaming Control Board last year after the Senate surprised the governor by blocking confirmation of his previous pick, Ronnie Jones, who had held the job for seven years.

The nine-member gambling 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. The chairman’s job is traditionally filled from State Police leadership ranks, because troopers are involved in gambling industry oversight.