In early 2022, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson was involved in the earmarking of $7 million in state funds to create southeast Louisiana’s first residential gambling treatment center at the Odyssey House in New Orleans. This took place shortly before she resigned from her post amid a federal investigation into her embezzlement of Democratic Party and campaign funds. However, less than seven months into her prison sentence, Peterson has been moved to a re-entry facility in New Orleans and is now pushing for the allocated state funds to be moved from the Odyssey House nonprofit to the Metropolitan Human Services District, a state-run entity.
Peterson, who is currently working as an advisor to the Davillier Law Group, claims to have no financial involvement in the project and believes the Human Services District is better equipped to manage the treatment facility. She has emphasized that her role in the project is that of an unpaid advocate who wants to ensure that gambling addicts in the area have access to in-patient treatment.
Peterson has attributed her own gambling addiction as the fuel behind her crimes, as she pleaded guilty to embezzling over $147,000 from the state Democratic Party and her own campaign accounts before resigning. Despite the funds being earmarked for the treatment center, they have not been fully allocated, with only $2 million immediately available and an additional $5 million requiring prioritization by lawmakers to become available in the future, as per the construction budget for the current year.
Having received certification as a “peer support specialist,” Peterson believes that the state would be best served by using its own method and model of delivery for the facility. This has resulted in Odyssey House raising concerns about the proposal, with the nonprofit’s CEO stating that no rationale has been provided for transferring the allocated funds to the Human Services District.
Although the Odysseus House initially expressed resistance to the proposal, its CEO, Ed Carlson, confirmed that they have decided to sign off on the deal, despite the lack of prior discussion on the matter. On the other hand, it is unclear whether state Sen. Royce Duplessis, representing the proposed site’s district, has agreed to the deal. Head of the Human Services District, Dr. Rochelle Head-Dunham, stated that state officials have recognized the need for gambling addiction treatment, especially after lawmakers authorized a significant expansion of sports betting in the state.
However, Governor John Bel Edwards’ office did not respond to questions regarding this issue, following a personal visit by Edwards to meet with Peterson. This project remains a subject of contention, with different entities advocating for the allocation of funds to best serve gambling addicts in the area.