How the 2019 Louisiana Governor Race Will Affect Gambling

How the 2019 Louisiana Governor Race Will Affect Gambling

The 2019 governor’s race in Louisiana could shape the future of sports betting in the state and could have more substantial impact on the overall gambling industry for years to come.

What Are The 2019 Louisiana Elections?

Louisiana’s statewide officers are on the 2019 ballots, including governor, attorney general and treasurer. The entire state Senate and state House of Representatives will also be on the ballot, with voters able to select one person from each chamber in their respective single-member voting districts. This election doesn’t include any federal offices, such as U.S. senate or house.

With Republicans projected to maintain sizable advantages in both chambers of the Louisiana State Legislature, what is expected to be a tight governor’s race will determine if the GOP can regain a “trifecta” of both houses and the governorship, or if Democrats can keep control of the executive branch.

Who Is On The Ballot In The Governor’s Race?

Incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards faces Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in a runoff election that will grant Edwards a second four-year term or see Rispone take over the governor’s mansion. The two candidates present contrasting views on most major issues, including gambling. The Nov. 16 election will determine if Louisiana will still have a gambling advocate as governor or someone who has come out against any future expansion.

What Happens if Edwards is Re-Elected?

Edwards has backed the state’s current gambling infrastructure and floated additional support for new gaming avenues. In a state that maintains many traditional religious and political traditions, Edwards has managed to balance gambling opponents with those who see the economic benefits of the industry.

In his first term in office, Edwards supported a new riverboat casino in Tangipahoa Parish, his home parish, and also signed into law legislation that maintains Harrah’s as the operator of the state’s lone land-based casino for another three decades.

He also backed legal sports betting for Harrah’s as well as the riverboat casinos and state racetracks. Republican legislators were unable to reach consensus on a bill in the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, but if Edwards is re-elected it would mean sports wagering backers would still have an ally in Baton Rouge.

Online sports betting, poker or casino gaming are likely still not politically feasible in a state that couldn’t pass regulations for a voter-approved daily fantasy sports authorization, but a second four-year term for Edwards means there is potential for gambling expansion in the Bayou State.

What Happens if Rispone is Elected?

A businessman with no prior political experience, Rispone has articulated few specific policies for his administration. There’s little indication that would include new forms of gambling.

Rispone said he “strongly agreed” with the idea that gambling should be limited to existing forms and not further deregulated or expanded, according to a survey from iVoterGuide, a Christian voting information organization. His answers echo his current campaign pitch as an evangelical Christian as well as his donations to other candidates, many of whom supported conservative religious groups that are traditionally opposed to gambling.

A Rispone win makes new gambling legislation a long shot. Though sports betting was championed by Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature, there was still enough backlash from within the party to derail the legislation, even with support from Democrats and the governor. Should lawmakers cobble together a bill that passes both houses in 2020, Rispone seems likely to veto that legislation and it seems unlikely there would be enough support to override a veto.

With decades of experience running a multi-million dollar running specialty contracting company, Rispone has touted his business acumen on the campaign trail. With prodding from other business-friendly Republicans, he might warm to the idea of legal sports betting, especially with the state losing sports gambling tax revenues to neighboring Mississippi and Arkansas. But that would seem to go against his appeals to evangelical and conservative voters, making an already difficult push to expand gambling that much more unlikely.

What Are The Candidates Campaigning On?

Unlike most other state gubernatorial campaigns where Democratic and Republican nominees can go months against each other in a general election campaign, Edwards and Rispone have only been campaigning against each other for a few weeks. That's because of Louisiana’s unique “jungle primary” which sees all candidates on one ballot, regardless of party. Should none of the candidates take a majority of votes, the top two go to a runoff.

In the 2019 primary, the incumbent Edwards took the most votes, behind unified Democratic support, while Rispone edged Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham to earn second place in the Oct. 12 primary election. That has left comparatively little time for the two to campaign in the general election, but they have already created different appeals.

A Democrat in a state politically dominated by Republicans, Edwards has stressed his bipartisan credentials during his first four years in office. Working with Republicans and Democrats, Edwards worked to overcome a $2 billion budget deficit as well as a sweeping criminal justice reform bill. During his first term he also expanded Medicaid and increased teacher pay.

Conversely, Rispone has stressed his conservative values alongside support from President Donald Trump. He is against the crime reform legislation Edwards championed and said he would look to invest in infrastructure while also cutting taxes. He would also support an update to the state constitution to permit more autonomy for local jurisdictions.

Who Will Win?

Polling shows a virtual dead heat just weeks before the final election.

A We Ask America poll taken shortly after the primary vote saw both Edwards and Rispone with 47% support. Polling from non-partisan election trackers Cook Political Report as well as Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal both view the race as a toss-up.

Edwards is the lone Democratic governor in the deep south and will have to again generate strong Democratic turnout, as well as support from independent, moderate and even some Republican voters in order to gain a second term in a state this remains one of the nation’s most conservative. His chances are bolstered by a 52% approval rating, which is tied for fourth-highest among any Democratic governor in the country, according to polling firm Morning Consult.

Rispone will look to turn out the state’s more conservative voters in a jurisdiction where Trump still remains popular. Also endorsed by Abraham, his rival for the GOP nomination, Rispone will need to garner a large chunk of Abraham voters in order to contend with Edwards. The incumbent won 46.6 percent of the vote in the jungle primary, compared to 27.4 for Rispone and 23.6 for Abraham.

If the challenger can combine his primary supporters with those of Abraham, he should be in a good position to take a majority of voters in the runoff. Conversely, if Edwards can tick his support up slightly, he is also in a strong position to earn a majority of votes. In either scenario, the Louisiana governor’s election should be one of the tightest in the nation.

When is Louisiana Election Day 2019?

The general election is Saturday, Nov. 16. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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