Louisiana sports betting referendum one step closer to voters

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

Louisiana voters are one step closer to being able to decide whether betting on sports will be legalized in their parishes.

A state House of Representatives committee without objection advanced twin bills already approved by the state Senate that would give residents an up-or-down vote on legalizing sports wagering. The bill does not specify who could place bets or where and how bets would be placed, nor does it set taxes or fees.

“I know sports wagering is a difficult issue for a lot of members,” said state Sen. Cameron Henry, a Metairie Republican. “This way you’ll be able to know [after the November election] exactly what your constituents want you to do.”

Assuming some parishes legalize sports betting, lawmakers would try to hammer out the details next year. Next year’s regular session is a fiscal session where new taxes can be approved. The Gaming Control Board would have oversight once lawmakers set the rules.

Lawmakers tried to follow a similar approach in legalizing fantasy sports, in which websites like DraftKings and FanDuel charge players fees and award prize money. Voters in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes legalized the practice in 2018, but the effort to set rules and tax rates was killed during the final moments of the 2019 session.

Henry’s bill, and a backup by fellow Republican Sen. Ronnie Johns, were advanced with little discussion. No testimony was given except by the legislators, and the only organization to turn in a red card expressing opposition was the Louisiana Family Forum, which always opposes expanding gambling.

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 full House will now consider the measures.