Louisiana sports betting took another crucial step forward Wednesday after the Senate overwhelmingly backed a bill that will allow voters to determine the legality of wagering during this fall’s elections.
The Senate voted 29-8 to advance the bill sponsored by Sen. Cameron Henry. Henry had opposed sports betting legislation in 2019, but championed the voter referendum bill for the 2020 session.
If an identical version of the bill is agreed to by the House, the bill goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards for final approval. Edwards, a Democrat, has largely supported sports betting proposals from the Republican-controlled legislature.
A House committee amended its version of the legislation Wednesday evening to align with the Senate’s version, and could send the House bill to the full floor for a vote as early as this week. Louisiana’s 2020 legislative session ends June 1.
Louisiana Sports Betting Bill Details
The legislation wouldn’t legalize sports betting immediately.
Voters in all 64 parishes will have a yes-or-no vote on their ballots for this November’s elections to determine if games can be offered there. Each parish that gives majority support for sports betting will be eligible for legal sportsbooks, but much of the key details such as taxes, purveyor authorization and mobile access will need to be approved by legislation in a subsequent legislative session, most likely in 2021.
Though not articulated in the relatively narrow ballot language, a parish won’t automatically be eligible to open a sportsbook; a “no” vote simply means sports betting remains illegal in that jurisdiction. At least initially, sports betting will likely be permitted exclusively at the state’s casinos and horse tracks, which have clamored to offer the games after rival facilities in neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi began taking bets in recent years.
Full statewide mobile betting is still not offered in any state that borders Louisiana, and may be a tougher legislative battle than simply allow licensed casinos to open brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. At least a few of the more conservative cultural and political parishes will also likely reject the referendum should it appear on the 2020 ballot, as they did for a daily fantasy measure in 2018.
History Unkind to Previous Efforts
In the months after the May 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal sports betting ban, Louisiana seemed like a candidate to be one of the earliest adaptors. The state has more than a dozen casinos and race tracks along with time to act on the court’s ruling thanks to the late start to its regular legislative session.
Instead, Louisiana would see Mississippi become the first southern state to take a bet and Arkansas voters approve legal wagering in their home state just a few months after the ban was struck down.
Despite support from conservative business interests in the GOP-dominated legislature, lawmakers struggled in both 2018 and 2019 to reach a compromise that appeased backers of the state’s casinos, horse tracks and video poker industries. Combined with pockets of the legislature that remained opposed to any form of new gambling, sports betting has fallen short each of the past two years.
Sports betting backers are now resting their hopes with voters. Even if approved by the House and the governor in May and voters in November, the necessary 2021 follow-up bill won’t likely come without a fight – lawmakers have still not agreed to details regarding DFS games following the 2018 referendum.
But such a bill must pass the Senate before that can even happen, a key hurdle easily cleared Tuesday afternoon in Baton Rouge.