Louisiana State Senators, Searching for Revenue, Easily Push Sports Betting Bills Through Committee

Posted on: May 6, 2020, 09:43h. 

Last updated on: May 6, 2020, 12:50h.

Two essentially identical sports betting bills proposed by a pair Republican state senators in Louisiana easily passed through the chamber’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday, potentially setting the stage for voters there to have a say on the matter in November.

Louisiana Sports Betting Bills
Mardi Gras revelers and Louisiana residents may get the chance to bet on sports next year. (Image: New York Times)

Senate Bill 378, proposed by Sen. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) and SB 130, sponsored by Sen. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) were both approved by the Judiciary Committee. If either is signed into law, voters would be able to approve or decline the availability of sports wagering in their respective parishes.

If a majority of the qualified electors in the parish voting on the proposition vote for the proposition, then sports wagering and such activities shall be permitted in such parish,” according to text from Johns’ SB 378.

There are 64 parishes in the Pelican State, which are the equivalent of counties in other states. The largest by population are the East Baton Rouge and Jefferson parishes.

Hunting for Revenue

Louisiana is home to more than 50 gaming properties, including casinos and racetracks. But as is the case with comparable venues in other states, those establishments are currently closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Johns told The Advocate, the state’s largest daily newspaper, that the shutdown already cost the state $100 million in revenue.

Analysts believe the state revenue shortfalls created by COVID-19 will prompt more politicians to consider embracing online gaming and sports wagering.

Johns’ SB 378 implies that any operator – commercial or tribal – would be eligible to apply for sports betting licenses. The Pelican State’s commercial gaming venues consist of racetracks, about 15 riverboat casinos and the land-based Harrah’s New Orleans. However, some operators are looking to move riverboats ashore, something Eldorado Resorts got approval to do with its Isle of Capri.

When it completes its $17.3 billion takeover of Caesars Entertainment, which is expected to happen sometime next month, Eldorado will be the largest individual operator in the Pelican State. Even with a recently announced sale, it maintains control of two Louisiana gaming venues and will add Caesars’ Harrah’s New Orleans, Harrah’s Louisiana Downs, and Horseshoe Boosier City to its portfolio.

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board (LGCB) approved the deal in January.

Hoping Past Isn’t Precedent

Louisiana has had past flirtations with sports betting. In 2018, voters in 47 parishes approved daily fantasy sports (DFS). But politicians couldn’t agree on how to tax that activity, and it died alongside a sports wagering plan last year, according to the Advocate.

Arkansas and Mississippi – two of the three states bordering Louisiana – allow sports betting, but Texas doesn’t. That could be an advantage, because the Lone Star State accounts for the largest percentage of visitors to the Pelican State, according to the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

SB 130 and SB 378 allow for electronic wagering, but only on the premises of a casino. Both proposals would permit betting on college sports.