If you had Louisiana to legalize sports betting this year, hold your tickets.
The House Appropriations committee loaded up S 153 with poison pills during a Tuesday hearing, likely scuttling the legal sports betting push from Sen. Danny Martiny. The sponsor asked the group to advance the tattered remnants of his bill as amended, but it was not his day:
“I don’t like the form the bill is in. I don’t think it will pass muster after that. But I hope that you would vote it out of committee so that we could continue the discussion.”
Members instead voted 16-5 to retain the bill in committee, then voted 14-6 to involuntarily defer. Any attempt to reconsider the measure will require a two-thirds vote.
What killed the Louisiana sports betting bill?
The committee considered three sets of amendments, none of which appealed to stakeholders. Two were adopted.
Official league data
The first adopted amendment clearly comes from the leagues, as it empowers them to control the data used for LA sports betting.
The language includes a new statutory definition for “sports organization” and a requirement that operators use data that originates with them or their approved distributor(s). It also directs regulators to consider league input when determining which types of wagers to prohibit.
Rep. Jack McFarland pitched these additions as a means to “address some concerns” from the pro leagues. “We want the statistics and data for each game to come from the official sports organization which is participating,” he said. “Not from a third party.”
Martiny testified against what he calls “the NFL amendment.”
“What these people want to do is they want to be able to provide data. I’m assuming they’re not providing it free of charge… From what I’m told, in the areas where sports gaming takes place, this does not occur. And it’s not a problem.”
He’s right. Excluding the new law in Tennessee, no other US state includes such provisions in its sports betting law.
“If the NFL or the NBA or the PGA feels like their data is an asset to sports betting,” Martiny continued, “let the free market determine that. If [operators] can make money using that data, then they’re going to use use it.”
Although the sponsor got the final word, the committee adopted the amendment with no objection.
Video poker establishments
The second adopted amendment is the one that might ultimately be responsible for this bill’s demise.
It allows the state’s video poker establishments to offer sports betting, essentially trading an existing terminal for a betting kiosk. Louisiana has roughly 2,800 video poker parlors, each of which would need to be licensed under these terms.
A representative from the Louisiana Gaming Commission testified that such a framework would put a strain on the state police who enforce gambling laws. Wade Duty also testified against both amendments on behalf of the Louisiana Casino Association.
“With the amendments that have been loaded onto this bill,” Duty said, “it is untenable. You have now put enough baggage on the plane it will not get airborne … In its present configuration, it’s not something we can support.”
Despite the opposition, the committee adopted the amendment from Rep. Gregory Miller by a verbal motion. Martiny’s follow-up comments made it clear that he sees the change as a move to require a new fiscal note, something that can not be accomplished before adjournment.
Sponsor can’t hide the disappointment
Martiny appeared to be blindsided by the committee’s attempt to sink his proposal.
He spent the better part of a year working on this bill, and it seemed to have a clear path to passage after lopsided approval in the Senate. The proposal was mostly sound, too, including a reasonable structure for taxes and fees.
“My understanding is that I’m here to address a fiscal note that came about as a result of some civil penalties that were put in there,” Martiny said to open the hearing. Instead, his colleagues in the lower chamber spent the better part of an hour tearing down the framework he’d built.
It ultimately became clear that the committee was not interested in moving the bill, and the sponsor took notice.
“I want to believe that the amendments that were thrown in were well-intentioned. But if the purpose of what you want to do here is kill the bill, leave it in the same posture.”
Martiny was already packing up his briefcase as the first few votes to defer were counted in committee.
No path ahead for LA sports betting
The committee vote probably spells the end of S 153, but Martiny was working on a backup plan. Early in the hearing, he freely indicated that he would reinsert any deleted language into a separate bill.
“Anything that we take out of this bill we are putting in the taxing mechanism,” he said.
Martiny already had a target in mind. H 587 is a bill from Rep. Joseph Marino that deals with the allocation of tax revenue from sports betting. The House had already failed to pass it once, though, and a recall vote late Tuesday afternoon resulted in an even more lopsided loss. That bill is likely dead, too.
Marino also tried to involve himself in the committee situation, making a motion to discharge Martiny’s bill minus the new amendments. That effort failed, as well, falling fives votes short of the 53 needed to all but end any hope.
In a subsequent interview with The Advocate, Marino threw in the towel. “I’ve read the room,” he told reporters. “I don’t see any light left at the end of the tunnel. We’re out of time.”
The Louisiana Legislature will adjourn no later than June 6 having punted on sports betting legislation once again.