The latest effort to bring legal sports betting to Louisiana easily advanced out of a Senate committee Tuesday, clearing the first hurdle on the long legislation journey.
A Senate judiciary committee advanced a bill that would allow voters statewide to approve sports betting within their home parish via a ballot measure in this November’s elections. Sen. J. Cameron Henry’s bill would then require separate legislation in the 2021 session to approve critical details such as purveyor access, tax rates and other regulatory measures.
“Everybody seems to be on the same page knowing we need to get this on the ballot,” Henry said Thursday. “From there we’ll work together to put out something that works for Louisiana.”
Sports Betting Details
The Senate committee also approved a proposal by Sen. Ronnie Johns, a leading gaming advocate in the legislature, to match his sports betting legalization bill to Sen. Henry’s. Both bills technically passed out of the committee without opposition, though one of the two will be withdrawn or merged into the other at some point in the legislative process.
On Tuesday, Senators also agreed to substitute Sen. Barrow Peacock’s sports betting bill, which would likewise have allowed a voter referendum to approve sports betting, with a largely different measure that expands promotional credit opportunities for Louisiana casinos. All three measures advanced unopposed.
In supporting the substitute to allow increased options for casino promotions, Sen. Johns said the state was already facing a $100 million budget shortfall from the previous year, a figure that was only likely to grow as the impact of the coronavirus outbreak came into focus. Johns said the state supports around 18,000 jobs for its casino and video poker industries and lawmakers needed to look to anyway to “jumpstart” revenues from legal gaming.
“If we’re going to balance our budget with this industry in this state…this is the way to do it,” Johns told senators on the committee. Louisiana’s constitution requires lawmakers to balance the state budget before the end of each legislative session. The 2020 session concludes June 1.
Daily Fantasy Falls Short
A separate daily fantasy regulation measure was deferred in committee. In dismissing the bill, backers said they hoped to try again in a likely special session later this year or in the regular 2021 session, but it still another blow to Louisiana voters who overwhelmingly approved these games in a ballot measure back in 2018.
The 2018 DFS measure, like Henry’s sports betting proposal, allowed voters to legalize daily fantasy in their home parish but authorized the games only when lawmakers agreed to subsequent regulatory legislation. Legislators couldn’t reach consensus in 2019, and a series of legislative rules made it essentially impossible to approve the DFS bills in 2020.
This will mark the third time in as many years Louisiana lawmakers have considered both DFS and legal sports betting. Many of the same political challenges that thwarted the bills the past two years remain, and the Louisiana State Legislature faces the extra burdens from the COVID-19 outbreak, which has already suspended the 2020 session for 28 days and taken the life of one of its members, Rep. Reggie Bagala.
Still, Tuesday’s voters went about as smoothly as possible for sports betting backers. None of the members of the Senate Judiciary B Committee opposed any of the bills, and it was touted by Sen. Gary Smith, the committee chair.
“Over several years we went all the way through this process last time and it gets snagged at the very end,” Smith said Thursday. “You’ve worked hard with each of these different groups during this time so we can have the best posture for the state of Louisiana, so we can get something out there at this time.”
Sports betting faces headwinds when, or if, it goes before the full Senate floor for a vote, but it already has a core supporters’ group. The full Senate could vote on the proposal as early as its next scheduled meeting on Thursday. If not taken up later this week, the bill only has until the June 1 session end to pass into law and onto the 2020 ballot.
“There’s a good chance of success,” Henry said.