A journalist picks through an unsavory gumbo of political corruption in the Pelican State.
From 1992 to 1996, Times-Picayune reporter Bridges (The Rise of David Duke, 1994) was assigned to cover the story of legalized gambling in Louisiana—and a sordid story it was, too. There are actually two tales here: the attempt by Louisiana to balance its budget with taxes on gambling, and the Feds’ pursuit of Governor Edwin Edwards (whose investigation, arrest, and trial consume the final fourth of the story). Louisiana was in big trouble in the 1990s: The oil market had collapsed, and the state budget was bust. Edwards—who served four terms as governor and is now in federal prison—was a flamboyant, horny, seductive, and slick politician who loved to gamble. What more natural union than a high-rolling governor with legalized gambling? The Louisiana citizens and legislature barely approved the gambling issues (Bridges describes with devastating clarity the voting-machine hanky-panky in the legislature), but then the real fun began as Edwards’s friends and associates and wannabes of every stripe and stink scrambled to acquire the few riverboat licenses (and lone land-casino license) the state would grant. Swooping into Louisiana came planeloads of guys with big bucks and bad taste. The vast amounts of money involved (hundreds of millions—even billions of dollars) tainted just about everyone who came near the licensing process, including Edwards and his son (both of whom were among those convicted on federal charges). Bridges writes with command and ease about this byzantine and squalid enterprise and only occasionally reveals his disdain for the principals. Oddly, he seems annoyed that Edwards’s glamorous wife, Candy, is much younger than her husband (he repeatedly mentions the age disparity).
A highly entertaining, if ultimately depressing, saga of greed and good-ol’-boy immorality. (b&w photos)