Residents and visitors to Louisiana might soon have a couple of new options for legal sports betting, in the forms of online fantasy sports and sports gambling. Louisiana’s State Legislature convenes this week for its 2019 session and plans to thoroughly examine these two gambling expansions. There’s optimism with proponents of sports betting considering that earlier this year things looked bleaker.
Not since Louisiana legalized riverboat casinos, the lottery, and video poker outlets in the ‘90s has the state legalized any new form of gambling. This was done mainly due to the pressure felt by lawmakers who felt they had to compete with Mississippi’s legal gambling options and activities.
Once again, Louisiana is feeling the competition: Mississippi made legal fantasy sports apps in 2017, and in 2018 opened sportsbooks at its Gulf Coast gambling locations. Another neighbor, Arkansas, also allows fantasy sports betting and will have legal sports gambling later in 2019.
In 2018, 47 separate Louisiana parishes voted to legalize mobile fantasy sports games, but before that can happen, lawmakers must create rules and develop a tax structure. In addition to FSG, stakeholders also want legal sports betting at the racetracks and casinos in the state.
As for tax revenue, there haven’t been any solid answers yet. In four out of the six states that legalized sports betting in 2018, tax revenue from the activity has fallen short.
Far less of a surefire thing than online fantasy sports games, sports betting still requires lawmakers to have support from voters. If legislators approve legal sportsbooks, the matter will go up for voting parish-by-parish. If that step is successful, there could be legal sports betting operations underway in Louisiana by January 2020.
There are four bills that have been filed to date that deal with sports gambling. The one with the most chances of passing is SB 153, sponsored by Senator Danny Martiny (R-Kenner).
SB 153 would allow for sports betting on both professional and college sports at Louisiana’s 15 riverboat casinos, at Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, and at the state’s four horse racetracks with slots. Gamblers would have to be 21 years of age and older and betting on electronic sports events, video games, and high school games would be prohibited.
Louisiana lawmakers are looking to what’s going on in Mississippi, sports-betting wise, when it comes to getting going. Martiny and others in the gambling industry say that the state’s gambling locations will lose out on revenue to other states if sports betting isn’t legalized in Louisiana. Martiny made the following comments about the bill:
“My intention is to keep the bill as close as possible to what happens in Mississippi.”
Another bill currently before legislature is one from Representative Joe Marino (I-Gretna), which proposes a 12 percent tax on sportsbook revenue; some of that money would go towards the local parishes with betting operations.
This matches Mississippi’s tax rate of 12 percent. Four of that goes to local governments and some of the state government’s cut would go towards infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.
As for the Gambling Control Board, they want at least $100,000 in yearly sports betting proceeds to put towards its problem gambling services. Marino said that the GCB of Louisiana is already underfunded and will need even more programs than what it currently offers.
One aspect of Martiny’s proposed legislation that might run into trouble is the part where it would allow bettors to place wagers using a smartphone from anywhere within a casino complex. This would make the age limit harder to enforce, says some opponents, and like videos poker outlets, should have stricter regulations regarding where bets can be placed.
Alton Ashy, who lobbies for the video poker industry, said that section of the bill is going to cause problems when it comes to sports betting:
“It’s certainly not going to do us any good. I think it needs to be extremely tightly drawn, or we can just oppose it and kill the bill and then nobody gets it.”
The future of sports betting is murky at best for Louisiana. It seems like every step they make forward with progress, they end up taking two steps backward. At this rate, the state would be lucky to have legalized sports betting in place next year. Hopefully, for the proponents of sports betting and fantasy sports in the state of Louisiana, the lawmakers will have an epiphany this week and make the right choice to legalize sports betting as soon as possible.
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