Louisiana has suddenly jumped to the front of the line for potential gambling expansion.
Bills on online gambling, sports betting and daily fantasy sports were all introduced within the span of a couple weeks in March. Lawmakers are also considering a measure that would allow riverboat casinos to move onshore, and another regarding a new Harrah’s property.
Sports betting and fantasy sports were both up for discussion in the legislature on Tuesday. While the DFS proposal advanced through the House, a sports betting bill was rejected by a Senate committee.
Louisiana is one of a handful of states where offering fantasy sports has always been considered illegal.
Sports betting bill killed
S 266 was introduced by Sen. Danny Martiny. It initially moved to allow sports betting at all of the state’s gaming establishments, including casinos, video poker parlors, and horse racing tracks. That proposal was subsequently narrowed to include casinos only. Passage would be subject to a referendum, in which residents from each parish would vote on legalization within that parish.
The bill’s first stop was the Committee on Judiciary, which reported it through with amendments. The Committee on Finance took it up today, but it turned the bill aside by a 6-3 vote. According to The Advocate, pushback centered around timidness over expansion and concerns over the cost of implementation.
That appears to be the end of the road for this bill, but a House bill from Rep. Major Thibaut remains on file.
DFS bill advances
H 484 was introduced by Rep. Kirk Talbot. It aims to create the Louisiana Fantasy Sports Contests Act to legalize DFS contests in the state. Regulation would be left to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
The Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice advanced the bill onto the floor last month, and the full chamber took it up late this evening.
The bill passed the House 67-23 without any debate.
The DFS bill will also be subject to a voter referendum at the parish level, if it passes. Only in parishes that approve the measure would residents be allowed to play fantasy sports from home. Talbot originally targeted next year for the referendum, but the timeline was moved up by amendment. Voters are now proposed to decide the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot this year.
Unless and until a bill becomes law, DFS remains illegal statewide.
Lousiana’s constitution gives voters substantial control over the law. Here’s the relevant section of the gambling statutes:
No law authorizing a new form of gaming, gambling, or wagering not specifically authorized by law prior to the effective date of this Paragraph shall be effective nor shall such gaming, gambling, or wagering be licensed or permitted to be conducted in a parish unless a referendum election on a proposition to allow such gaming, gambling, or wagering is held in the parish and the proposition is approved by a majority of those voting thereon.
It’s a mouthful, but it basically leaves expansion in the hands of local voters.
For those in other states, a parish is what you probably call a county (or a borough, if you’re one of our many Alaskan readers). Expansion in Louisiana is therefore dictated at the county level. This is another item that was amended into the bill; the introduced version called for a statewide referendum.
Things become a bit strange if the referendum results in patchwork legalization.
The onus will be on operators to ensure that unapproved parishes don’t participate. There are, by the way, 64 of them in Louisiana. Geolocation is robust enough to make this possible, but it’s not exactly practical. It’s odd to consider a scenario in which someone would be prohibited from entering a DFS contest from home, but allowed to do so from a few blocks away.
The referendum may create some unusual situations in the state, but it’s a statutory necessity.
Next steps and timeline
The bill now awaits assignment to a Senate committee, where it could face the same group that just voted down sports betting. Committees and the full chamber would need to pass the measure as written in order to send it to the governor for signature.
Time is starting to get short for lawmakers. The Louisiana legislature stays in session longer than most states, but it’s set to adjourn in about six weeks.