Governor didn’t know when to fold ’em

'Bad Bet on the Bayou'

by Tyler Bridges

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27.50

Louisiana has always been one of our most colorful states. In "Bad Bet on the Bayou," author Tyler Bridges tells the story of the rise of gambling in Louisiana in the 1990s under the free-wheeling guidance of Edwin Edwards, the state's four-term charismatic governor.

Edwards' subsequent entanglement with organized crime, improper payoffs and public corruption ultimately led to his downfall and conviction. It's a story that could teach many lessons, but not with this disappointing effort.

Edwards, having narrowly obtained legislative approval for a land-based casino, several riverboat casinos and video-poker machines, orchestrated the licensing and leasing process, obtaining huge (and hugely improper) cash payments for himself along the way.

He once stuffed $400,000 into a money vest he wore to avoid detection at an airport. But the FBI snared him with a series of wiretaps and informers with tape recorders.

Edwards himself leads an imposing cast of rakish characters. So confident of winning reelection in 1983, he opined that he couldn't lose unless he was caught "in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."

But Edwards is only the start. Aging organized-crime figures fumble over money-management problems, high-flying developers offer pyramid-scheme financing to build outsized casinos, and FBI agents wiretap phones. It's a great story. Unfortunately, Bridges fails to live up to its potential. The author, a reporter for The Times-Picayune, offers little more than a nod to historical context, introduces dozens of characters with every turn of the page, often out of chronological sequence, and draws few lessons from the tale.

Comments are closed.