Louisiana Senate advances bills involving sports betting, distracted driving, alcohol delivery

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana voters could decide whether to legalize sports betting in their parishes under a bill the state Senate approved Wednesday.

Senate Bill 130 by Sen. Cameron Henry, a Metairie Republican, does not define where and how bets would be taken, nor does it set tax rates. Once parishes make their decisions in November, lawmakers would be required to work out all of the details in any parishes that legalize the practice.

“You will be able to look at the results of what your constituents want you to do as it relates to sports wagering,” Henry said. “It is the safest way to get this done.”

Lawmakers whose constituents support sports betting could feel free to support the follow-up legislation and work on hammering out the details, he suggested. The Gaming Control Board would have oversight.

Legalizing sports betting was one of the most contentious issues discussed during last year’s session. Supporters’ goal last year was to help Louisiana’s casinos compete with casinos in other states that already provide sports betting.

Supporters also argue that people are betting on sports already, so lawmakers may as well legalize it and tax it to raise revenue. Gambling opponents say any expansion of gaming leads to more problem gambling, ultimately creating costs for state taxpayers that far outweigh the benefits.

The bill passed 29-8 and goes next to the state House of Representatives.

Senators advanced with a 31-5 vote Senate Bill 50 by Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, that would ban holding and using a phone while driving. Louisiana already bans texting while driving, but that law is unenforceable because someone who is pulled over for texting can claim they were doing something else, he said.

The bill would still allow drivers to use their phones by voice-activated commands and Bluetooth, McMath said. Enacting the law would make Louisiana eligible to compete for annual $2.4 million federal grants to combat distracted driving, he added.

The maximum penalty would be $300 and a 30-day license suspension for a third offense. Fines paid by violators would go to a fund that pays for the legal defense of poor people accused of a crime.

The law would not apply to law enforcement or drivers of emergency vehicles while on duty. Some exceptions would apply, such as medical emergencies or reporting a traffic collision.

The Senate approved by a 32-5 vote Senate Bill 178 by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, that would loosen restrictions on alcohol delivery. Lawmakers legalized the practice for stores and restaurants last year, but only allowed direct employees of the businesses or third-party companies that use direct employees to participate. Most third-party delivery companies use contract workers.

Allain’s bill allows third-party companies that use contractors to deliver alcohol. It also allows stores to deliver high-alcohol-content beverages, rather than only low-alcohol beverages as under last year’s bill. Restaurants still would be limited to beer and wine.