Louisiana Legislators Looking at State’s 26-Year-Old Gambling Laws

Posted on: October 24, 2017, 04:06h. 

Last updated on: October 24, 2017, 04:06h.

Legislators warn that if Louisiana wants to stay competitive with neighboring state casinos they need to revise their gambling laws, something that hasn’t been done since 1991. Some lawmakers believe it is time that changed.

Louisiana gambling
Louisiana State Senator Ronnie Johns (R-District 27) is trying to get the state’s gambling laws updated. (Image: Sarah Gamard)

Senator Ronnie Johns (R-District 27) brought up the topic for the second time this year at last Monday’s legislative session. He represents the Lake Charles area where there are three riverboat venues and told the Advocate it has been too long since the issue was considered.

“Our laws are antiquated,” he said. “They need to be updated if we want to keep up.”

Johns is adamant that any new legislation wouldn’t bring in new casinos, just improve the rules that govern the current ones. He would like to see some progress by next year.

Keeping Competitive

When the laws were being formed in 1991 it was contentious and those with religious political affiliations were against the idea of putting establishments in the state. The voters, however approved it.

A year later they also gave the green light for video poker outlets and awarded Harrah’s the exclusive rights to operate on land.

The revenue from legal betting pays for a number of state programs and is a primary source of funding for the Support Education in Louisiana Fund. In 2011 approximately $400 million was collected. In 2016 the figure was $906 million.

But Johns believes the state could collect even more money if resorts were allowed to be more competitive. Updating the laws would allow the riverboat venues to expand and become more modern.

Threats from Oklahoma’s Native American places are taking away customers from Shreveport facilities. Mississippi’s resorts include golf courses and are tourist destinations, further harming Louisiana’s ability to compete.

Second Debate This Year

Not much has changed legally since the 15 riverboat facilities and Harrah’s in New Orleans were established more than two decades ago. They are governed by laws that Johns and others believe are archaic. One of the statues requires a working paddle wheel and another mandates a captain must be present even though the boats never move.

Ronnie Jones, a former state trooper who heads a task force and the regulatory Louisiana Gaming Control Board, told the Advocate that staying stagnant will harm the establishments.

“This is a serious industry now, and we have to look at it with an eye toward economic development,” he said.

This is the second time the subject has come up. The first was in May when the legislators and casino executives met at the state’s gaming committee.

One proponent is Senator Gary Smith (D-District 19) who said after that meeting that something had to be done.

“We haven’t looked at a lot of these laws in a very long time,” he said. “It’s just been kind of status quo and we really do need to step in and modernize a lot of things.”