By Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–The Senate on Tuesday approved a 15.5 percent tax on online fantasy sports betting along with an amendment that represented a last-ditch effort to keep the possibility of betting on real sports alive.
The bill now goes back to the House, which supports the tax on fantasy sports betting but has opposed gambling on real football, basketball and baseball games.
The Senate vote came after an angry fight between two Republican lawmakers from Metairie — Sen. Danny Martiny, who has pushed to legalize real sports betting, and Rep. Cameron Henry, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who bottled up Martiny’s bill in his committee.
Henry went so far as to duck out of committee meetings at key moments to block any reconsideration of Martiny’s proposal.
Martiny, whose tenure in the Senate ends Thursday due to term limits, was furious that Henry went to such lengths to head him off.
“This is the last bill that I will ever handle in the legislature,” Martiny said in an interview. “I’m not going to go down without a fight.”
The House and the Senate have both approved the 15.5 percent tax on fantasy sports. But given Henry’s opposition to legalizing betting on real sports, the House could still strip that amendment from what the Senate approved Tuesday, leaving it up to a House-Senate conference committee to decide the fate of both parts of the bill.
Last November, voters in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes approved wagering on fantasy sports matchups, leaving it to the Legislature to create a tax and regulatory framework.
It was clear after voters approved fantasy sports wagering in so many parishes last fall that Martiny and others would try to use that momentum to win that approval for legalizing betting on real sports as well.
But religious groups and lawmakers from conservative parts of north and central Louisiana have long been wary of continuing to expand gambling.
The intensity of Henry’s opposition surprised lawmakers because voters in Jefferson Parish approved the fantasy sports wagering and have supported other types of gambling. Henry is also term-limited and is expected to run for the state Senate.
“I don’t think in my 12 years in office, I can picture myself having to come down here to discuss a bill related to sports gambling that we have spent more time on than any economic development project in the last four years,” Henry said on the House floor. “Nor have I ever been addressed on the Senate floor three times because the process wasn’t working for some members.”
Martiny has been pushing for the legalization of betting on real sports to keep from losing gambling revenue to Mississippi, which is one of several states that have legalized sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it in May 2018.
“Level the playing field for our casinos to compete against the Mississippi, Arkansas, and now Alabama casinos, and also it will afford us the opportunity to give a significant amount of money dedicated to early childhood education,” Martiny said.
But some of those states say wagering on real sports has not proven to bring in the revenue windfall they expected, and it is not clear that most Louisiana House members are willing to support betting on more than fantasy sports right now.