Louisiana Sports Betting Hopes Helped by Edwards Re-Election
John Bel Edwards was re-elected as Louisiana governor Saturday, keeping a gambling proponent in office for the next four years as Louisiana considers another attempt to legalize sports betting in 2020.
A Democrat, Edwards topped his Republican challenger, businessman Eddie Rispone, by a less-than 2% margin in what was expected to be one of the tightest gubernatorial races in the country. Though gaming wasn’t a major priority for either candidate, the two presented a contrasting vision for the future of the industry in Louisiana.
Edwards will have to work with a GOP-controlled legislature next year, but he has earned a reputation for being bipartisan with lawmakers and will, at the very least, be an ally in the often contentious struggle to approve sports betting.
Gambling on the Campaign Trail
Under Louisiana’s unique “jungle primary” system, every gubernatorial candidate is listed on one ballot, and the top two finishers advance to the general primary should no individual take more than 50% of the vote. Rispone topped Rep. Ralph Abraham for second place behind Edwards in the primary, but Louisiana’s system left just a few weeks for the general election.
With limited time, Edwards touted his bipartisan record to voters while Rispone promoted his business acumen and support for conservative values and political positions. he also has backing from President Donald Trump.
That left little time for gaming topics, but the two candidates made their positions clear without having to debate them.
Earlier this year Edwards supported a new contract with Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, the state’s lone land-based casino, as well as the right for Harrah’s and Louisiana’s riverboats to take sports bets.
Rispone has never held a political office, so he hasn’t had to take stances on gaming issues, but he told a Christian voting guide he opposed any gaming expansion. That wasn’t surprising as he looked to court evangelical and conservative voters, most of whom oppose gaming.
This divide was best exemplified by fundraising. Gaming interests have contributed more than $300,000 to Edwards since 2013. Rispone has received no money from them.
Louisiana Gaming Background
Legal gambling remains controversial in a state with more than two dozen casinos and 1,700 video poker terminals.
Religious and conservative groups influence the state culturally and politically, making any gaming measure difficult. Louisiana was one of the last states to approve daily fantasy games and had to do so via a ballot measure. Even after it was approved by a majority of parishes in 2018, lawmakers couldn’t agree to a regulatory structure for the games in 2019, and DFS remain illegal.
A similar roadblock thwarted sports betting earlier this year. Though championed by Republicans, the bill couldn’t pass through the legislature over concerns from conservative groups, as well as conflict between the casinos and video poker operators over which entities could take sports bets.
With sports betting sidelined, more expansive measures like online casinos or poker are likely dead on arrival in the legislature. Compounded with the loss of Sen. Danny Martiny, the legislature’s most outspoken gaming advocate, to term limits, any new gaming legislation will have an uphill climb when lawmakers return to Baton Rouge next March.
What Comes Next?
Louisiana will have a gaming advocate as its chief executive for the next four years. What happens from there is anyone’s guess.
Unlike other states with a governor and legislature from different parties, Edwards has been able to work with Republican lawmakers. The political realities in Louisiana still make this difficult for gaming legislation.
Without Martiny, a new gaming champion will have to emerge, which is far from a guarantee. From there, gaming backers will have to navigate conflicts between the industry as well as lawmakers, many of whom remain staunchly opposed to any form of gaming.
Still, Edwards’ win is a benefit simply by the fact it keeps Rispone from the governor’s mansion. Gaming interests clearly believe Edwards will benefit them more than Rispone. With their influence, plus new sports betting developments in neighboring Mississippi and Arkansas, pressure remains to pass new legislation.
There are no sure bets in politics, but Louisiana gaming has better odds with a second term of the Edwards administration.
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