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Editor’s Note: See updated story here.
A Louisiana bill that would legalize daily fantasy sports has met with opposition that threatens the bill’s future, at least for this legislative session.
The bill from Rep. Joseph Lopinto — HB 475 — seeks to create a carveout in state law that differentiates playing fantasy sports from gambling. Legal Sports Report has learned that the Louisiana Family Forum and some brick-and-mortar gaming interests in the state have come out in opposition to the legislation.
After relatively smooth sailing previously — it made it out of the state house with minimal opposition — the problems apparently began when the bill made its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On its initial hearing date, on May 19, the bill was “voluntarily deferred” by LoPinto, a way of keeping the bill alive without bringing it in front of committee and a potential up-or-down vote. Back in April, LoPinto told the Times-Picayune that he believed the bill would move through the legislature without a problem. The bill likely would have faced a committee hearing if LoPinto or fantasy lobbying interests believed it could pass a vote.
Gene Mills, president of the Family Forum, has said he has been told the committee will not hear the measure. But the bill is not officially dead yet, and it could still be heard in committee on Tuesday, June 2. That appears to be the last chance the bill would have of making it out of committee before the state legislature adjourns on June 11.
While the bill ran into problems in the Senate, opposition actually began earlier than that. An email from the Family Forum urged recipients to oppose the legislation back in April:
On Wednesday, April 29th, the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee will hear HB 475 by Rep. Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie. This bill would allow participation in fantasy and simulated sports games primarily using the internet. Because these games involve consideration in terms of a fee to participate and also involve payout partially based on luck, we believe that allowing participation in these games would be an expansion of gambling.
In the interest of protecting Louisiana citizens from the pervasive and addictive nature of online gambling and especially in the interest of protecting Louisiana children, current Louisiana law strictly prohibits any internet gambling. We believe this is a reasonable safety net and should not be altered. HB 475 would be the first exemption and probably not the last in weakening this statute. This is a step toward changing laws to sanction online gambling, even if it starts out as participation in fantasy sports games.
Mills talked with LSR about his group’s opposition to the bill this week. Louisiana is actually one of the most liberal states in terms of land-based gambling, but, like most jurisdictions, online gambling of any type is illegal. His group opposes expansion of gambling, and he said he believes Gov. Bobby Jindal shares that sentiment.
“There’s no regulation in the bill,” Mills said. “It opens the floodgates for a new form of online betting.”
Mills noted that daily fantasy sports is different from its season-long forerunner, saying DFS players could enter games hourly, if they wanted.
Mills also confirmed that some gaming interests in the state are also opposed to the bill, currently.
“Organized gambling views this as a percentage of their market. We are just the wall decoration (in the opposition to the bill) compared to gaming interests,” Mills said.
LSR has not been able to confirm the range and amount of opposition to the bill from brick-and-mortar interests, but can confirm that it is not across-the-board in the gaming sector.
Obviously, the daily fantasy sports industry takes issue with the sentiment of the opposing groups. Fantasy Sports Trade Association counsel Jeremy Kudon noted that the FSTA is trying to educate legislators and lobbyists about DFS.
“People have misconceptions about daily fantasy sports that we are actively working to dispel and to essentially how it works and why it is not a form of gaming, why it is not an expansion, and why it shouldn’t be a threat to any established gaming interest,” Kudon told LSR.
On the last of his points, Kudon points to a bill in Pennsylvania that seeks to license casinos to offer on-property fantasy sports contests.
“[That bill is] meant to lure people to the casino, not because it’s a game of chance or because it’s another table-like game, but more because it’s a form of entertainment that attracts a demographic that most casinos and businesses desperately want to attract,” Kudon said.
If the forward progress on HB 475 does get stopped, the FSTA doesn’t believe that’s game over for DFS in Louisiana.
“We didn’t expect to pass a bill in Louisiana in this legislative session. Our goal was really to build the groundwork for 2016. So we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the reception we’ve received, especially in the House,” Kudon said, noting that a similar bill failed to pass that body in 2010. Kudon added that LoPinto introduced the bill on his own, without prompting from the FSTA.
Last week, the FSTA also released polling data from international research firm Ipsos that indicated that 70 percent of Louisiana residents “support the full legalization of fantasy sports.”
“This polling data confirms what we’ve always believed, that residents of Louisiana are supportive of fantasy sports and want the hobby fully legalized,” said Paul Charchian, president of the FSTA, in a press release. “It’s time for Louisiana to pass HB475 so that the state’s residents can play all the fantasy sports contests that are legal in 45 other states.”
Kudon also said two of Louisiana’s professional sports franchises — the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans — back the bill.
For now, Louisiana is still one of five states where DFS sites generally do not operate because of state law. Efforts in the other four states — Washington, Arizona, Montana and Iowa — have lagged after initial progress earlier in the year.
FSTA polling data also concluded that “64 percent of Iowans, 64 percent of Washingtonians and 65 percent of Arizonans support legalizing fantasy sports.”
On other fronts, a law passed in Kansas legalizing real-money fantasy sports earlier this month. A bill that would regulate DFS and license operators in Texas — a state where DFS is already considered legal — has made no progress. The legislative session ends June 1.