Louisiana Sports Betting Likely Dead in 2019

One of the more promising prospects for legalized sports betting appears all but extinguished after a Louisiana House committee voted not to advance the bill to the whole floor Tuesday.

The Appropriations Committee subsequently involuntarily deferred the motion to legalize wagering on sporting events in the state, effectively ending any likelihood lawmakers will reconsider the legislation before the state’s 2019 session ends June 6.

This time a week ago the Louisiana legislature seemed poised to become the sixth body to pass a sports betting bill this year. After passing relatively easily through the Senate, the legislation ran into more stringent opposition in the House, where two amendments introduced by members of the Apportions Committee all but ended any hopes of passage.

Sports betting backers had hoped to keep up with neighboring Arkansas and Mississippi, both of which approved wagering last year. Baring an unlikely change of heart from lawmakers, Louisiana will almost assuredly have to wait until next year’s legislative session to consider betting.

Two Motions Likely End Louisiana Sports Betting

Lawmakers in the House approved two amendments to the Senate bill that were anathema for supporters and effectively ended its prospects of a vote before the entire floor.

Rep. Jack McFarland introduced a measure to require sports betting purveyors to use official league-sanctioned data in order to take bets. Decried as “data fees” by opponents, critics fears this requirement would allow the leagues to extort operators by charging exorbitant rates in order to operate.

Sen. Danny Martiny, the bill’s sponsor and one the legislature’s leading gaming advocates, warned lawmakers during Tuesday’s committee meeting that this move would cripple revenues for both gaming purveyors and state coffers. Only Tennessee, which approved its sports betting bill earlier this month, requires the data fees among the 17 jurisdictions taking bets or that are poised to do so.

This appeal fell on deaf ears, and the committee passed the amendment without objection.

The bill’s prospects were further damaged by a motion by from Rep. Dustin Miller to permit operators of the state’s more than 2,000 video poker venues to take bets, in addition to the 20 total casino and horse track properties already included in the measure. Martiny warned this proliferation would be unappealing to skeptical lawmakers fearful of gambling to begin with, and reiterated the bill was merely intended to allow existing gaming entities another option already available in neighboring states.

Like the data fees, this measure also passed without objection.

The video poker provision led the state’s casino industry to withdraw its support for the bill. The bill was then opposed by officials from two sides, both gaming industry backers of the original proposal as well as gaming skeptics on the committee.

With few backers remaining, the amended bill did not pass out of committee and to a vote before the full House floor.

Following the no vote, lawmakers voted to involuntarily defer the motion. Under Louisiana law, the bill now can’t be reconsidered unless two-thirds of committee members vote to do so.

Unless lawmakers can reach some consensus to remove the two added amendments, a reconsideration seems highly unlikely, especially with the end of the state’s 2019 legislative session in sight.

Despite its array of gaming facilities, conservative and religious groups in the state have long opposed any new gambling developments. Louisiana Baptist Convention representative Will Hall reiterated this opposition during an address to lawmakers on the committee, decrying what he considered the negative effects of gaming on the state. He also opposed the expansion of sports betting via video poker terminals.

The only speaker during the hearing to testify in favor of the measure that permits sports betting at video poker venues was, not surprisingly, an operator of a video poker software company.

Sports Wagering Meets Abrupt End

Until May 28, Louisiana seemed a safe bet to pass a sports betting bill before the end of the year.

After the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports wagering in May 2018, Martiny and other lawmakers pushed a measure to permit in-person sports wagering at licensed casinos and horse tracks. The 2018 legislative session ended before backers had enough time to advance the bill through both the House and Senate, but early progress last year encouraged gaming supporters to try to pass the same bill again the following year.

Lawmakers did pass a daily fantasy measure through the legislature last year, which allowed voters at the parish level to approve DFS games as part of a ballot question during the 2018 midterms. The majority of parishes approved the games, including the dozen most populated, furthering the momentum for regulated, legal gaming measures in the state.

As with DFS games, this year’s sports betting bill would have also required a voter referendum in order to pass. Backers hoped to move legislation quickly so it could enter the ballot ahead of Louisiana’s elections this October.

Supporters also hoped to get the bill passed through the legislature and on to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who publicly backed sports betting legislation. A Democrat, Edwards is facing re-election challenges from multiple Republicans in this fall’s elections, any of whom gaming proponents fear would be less amenable to sports gambling if elected.

Prefiled by Martiny before the 2019 session began in April, the Senate passed the bill with a 24-15 vote April 30. It then passed through House criminal justice committee three weeks later, and backers hoped for a receptive audience when it then passed on to the appropriations committee.

Instead, committee members loaded it with unpalatable amendments that all-but evaporated popular support.

Little Hope for Gaming Miracle

Along with Martiny’s bill, Rep. Joseph Marino introduced complimentary taxing legislation that state law mandates be approved by lawmakers in order for the sports betting bill to pass into law. On May 23 It fell a few votes short of the required two-thirds majority, but that was with 13 members of the 105-member House absent. A subsequent motion to reconsider was pending as of Tuesday afternoon.

But with the defeat of the legalization measure early, the taxation vehicle is rendered mute. Even if the House was to change its vote on the tax bill, it would be pointless if sports betting wasn’t legalized.

The legislative process frequently brings unexpected twists and shifts, and there are still several working days that lawmakers could in theory resuscitate the sports betting bill. But the motions in today’s committee hearing sapped most support for the current bill and it appears nearly impossible to gain enough support to pass with these amendments.

If somehow lawmakers work behind the scenes to strip the amendments, it would still need to pass through appropriations – and then the entire House, which hasn’t seemed overly eager to approve sports betting to begin with.

If passed through the House, it would then need to reconcile and approve an identical version as one passed by the Senate; and they would have to do so by June 6 (barring the unlikely scenario where Edwards would call a special session to debate the issue).

All this means that for at least the next year, Louisiana sports bettors will have to continue to cross over to Mississippi and soon Arkansas to place a legal wager – the very action Martiny had hoped to end with his bill.

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