A sports betting ballot measure bill easily advanced out of the Louisiana House Friday, likely assuring Louisiana voters will be able to approve legal wagering within their home parishes as part of the 2020 ballot.
The 73-23 vote for HB 357 doesn’t finalize a ballot question, but it clears a major logistical hurdle that has thwarted sports betting last year. The lopsided House vote comes a week after the Senate approved two separate versions of the legislation.
Should either the House or Senate approve the other chamber’s legislation, it will go to Gov. John Bel Edwards for final approval, which would appear to be a formality. A vote from one or both chambers will likely come next week. Louisiana’s legislative session adjourns June 1.
With only minimal opposition in the legislative so far, it appears a sure bet Louisiana voters will have a sports wagering proposition on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot.
Sports Betting Bill Details
If passed, Louisiana voters will see a question on their ballots that simply asks “shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted” in their parish. The question doesn’t address key issues such as access (would there be mobile betting) or tax rates, which will need to be approved by lawmakers in a future legislative session.
Theoretically, majority support for the ballot question means full mobile betting would be allowed in every parish that approves it. However, that would be a far more challenging political climb in a state that has struggled to even approve daily fantasy regulations.
Sports betting backers in the legislature had hoped to approve sports betting each of the past two years. The legislation was ostensibly designed to allow the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos and horse tracks to take in-person bets, largely as a means to compete with Arkansas and Mississippi gaming facilities that were already doing so.
In 2019, a retail sports betting bill easily passed the Senate, but it was tripped up in the House when video poker backers added sports wagering access for thousands of Louisiana gaming terminals. This angered the casino industry, which didn’t want the competition, as well as sports betting skeptics who opposed further gambling access for the machines, which are at hundreds of truck stops, bars and restaurants across the state.
In the process, the debate also thwarted the DFS legislation, even though the vast majority of parishes approved the games in 2018 via a similar ballot measure as proposed by this year’s sports betting legislation.
Next Steps for Louisiana Sports Betting
Those political difficulties help explain why sports betting backers in Baton Rouge are now advancing sports betting through voters, not the legislature. As the bill matriculated through the legislative gauntlet, sponsors have touted the ballot measure as a way for fellow lawmakers to better understand their constituents; local voters would have the final say in whether or not sports betting would be permitted in their parish.
Should this measure reach the ballot, it doesn’t do much to determine what sports wagering would look like in Louisiana. It remains to be seen if sports betting would be allowed on mobile devices in authorized parishes, through the video poker machines or merely at the casinos and horse tracks.
The difficulties passing DFS regulations are a further reminder that the necessary sports betting taxing and regulatory vehicles are no sure bet to make it out of the legislature in 2021, no matter how aggressively they are supported by voters.
However, Louisianans should be prepared to at least have that question when they vote this fall. Although the House and Senate versions are slightly different, both chambers have managed to pass a ballot measure bill. Barring an unforeseen political calamity, there are good odds lawmakers will make the necessary technical changes and both chambers will approve an identical version of one of the three bills still circulating through the legislature.