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Two bills to put legalizing Louisiana sports betting in front of voters moved through a state legislative committee Tuesday.
Sen. Cameron Henry sponsors one of three Louisiana sports betting bills heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He tells Legal Sports Report that he expects his bill to get a Senate vote next week.
Henry’s S 130 merely puts the question of authorizing sports betting on the November ballot in individual parishes.
Without time to decide on implementation language or the ability to impose taxes and fees this year, a referendum appears to be the best way to start moving forward sports betting in Louisiana.
“It’s going to be a very significant debate on who is able to do it, how, and what the regulations will be,” Henry said. “While dealing with COVID-19, we’re trying to hold back on bills that take a lot of debate.
“We’re just going to pass the referendum bill, see if folks like it and next year, start the process of putting regulations in a bill that we’ll have months to work on rather than days or weeks.”
The timing of Louisiana’s legislative schedule might be the most unfortunate among US states. The session began on March 9. Six days later, the coronavirus pandemic shut down the proceedings for seven weeks.
The legislature returned Monday, leaving little time before the scheduled adjournment on June 1.
Committee chairpersons received instructions Monday to pare down bills to what’s necessary to pass this year. Henry believes a voter referendum on Louisiana sports betting fits the bill.
Louisiana presents one of the most difficult paths to legalizing sports betting.
Lawmakers can’t legalize sports wagering statewide. Individual parishes must decide if they approve of sports betting in Louisiana via referendum.
The sports betting proposition language in Henry’s bill is as follows:
“Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of _____?”
Sports betting in Louisiana could happen by the 2021 NFL season.
Here are the steps it would take to make it happen:
Henry sees urgency in putting a sports betting referendum on the ballot this year to allow the legislature to pass a tax bill next year.
It’s difficult to get the necessary two-thirds vote to impose a tax without knowing constituents want it.
“A lot of people are tax-adverse,” Henry said. “They don’t want to vote for new taxes. We want to give them the comfort level that their constituency is in favor of this new industry and understand it is going to come with a tax. They’re not going to get grief from their constituents if they support this tax.”
Bills involving taxes need to originate in the House and can only be introduced in odd years.
If Louisiana doesn’t put the issue on the ballot this year, Henry fears it would take the state until 2023 to do sports betting.
Two years after voters approved fantasy sports, the Louisiana legislature still hasn’t passed bills to authorize and tax the activity.
Sen. Barrow Peacock withdrew a bill from the committee to regulate DFS, knowing that a tax bill can’t be introduced until next year.
Peacock expressed concern that sports wagering could also stall in the legislature for years after voter approval.
“I have people who want to do fantasy sports in Louisiana and they cannot do it because we cannot get a two-thirds vote in this legislature to tax it. We are again going down the path that if we ask people to do sports wagering and it passes by almost 60% and we still do not have it, citizens of Louisiana are going to be upset with us as they are with fantasy sports.”
Sen. Gary Smith Jr., who chairs the committee, encouraged Peacock to lobby the governor to include a DFS tax in a special session later this year “so we can give the public what they already have voted on.”
The other two bills on the docket for today’s hearing also put the sports wagering question on the ballot.
They include some regulatory language for authorizing sports wagering at 15 riverboat casinos, one land-based casino in New Orleans and four racetracks in the state.
Both bills limit electronic sports wagering to casino properties. Henry asserted that the legislature needs more time to look into opening up mobile sports betting statewide, excluding parishes that opt-out.
“If trying to get someone who is currently betting in an illegal manner to move to a legal framework, we have to provide them with the same access within reason,” Henry said. “That would require giving them the same ease of betting from their phones.
“We have to break down our goals of doing this, whether it’s to provide local parishes a way to raise money, to provide revenue to casinos or also to provide a legal opportunity for someone who is betting illegally.”
Attempts to pass a sports betting implementation bill in Louisiana last year turned into a mess.
There’s little reason for Louisiana to push for an implementation bill this year. The legislature would still need to wait until next year to pass a tax bill.
Two authorization bills for sports wagering were replaced in the committee Tuesday. Sen. Ronnie Johns turned his bill into a duplicate of Henry’s referendum bill. It was advanced as a backup.
Peacock substituted legislation to remove a casino tax on promotional credit, which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
While there’s more work needed to garner support for sports betting, Henry believes that the referendum can be done now. He expects a vote on the bill today.
“We’re not asking committee members to support sports wagering,” Henry said. “Voting for the bill just means you’re asking your constituents if they are in favor of sports wagering.”