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Louisiana Legislators Buckle Down on Sports Betting Prospects

Chris Graythen/Getty Images/AFP

Louisiana looks poised to possibly become the next major legal sports betting domino to fall with news out of the state's Senate and House in recent days. Bills have been debated and passed meaning that the nation's fifth-largest gaming market could go live with their own wagering platform in the not-too-distant future.

“That industry’s become a good partner for the state. It produces a lot of good jobs, stable jobs, for thousands of Louisiana’s citizens, many who have made careers out of it,” Sen. Gary Smith Jr said. “Gaming has produced a very stable and viable source of revenue for the state. It brings in more than oil, gas and tourism at this point. And with all of these outlets shut down for two-plus months, it’s just another element that reduces revenues for our state.”

It's complicated in Louisiana however. The state has 64 parishes – all of which will have their own say whether or not to bring a sports betting platform to their jurisdiction. A vote in 2018 on the launch of legal Daily Fantasy Sports saw just 47 of the 64 parishes vote "Yes" and the ultimate demise of the plan to allow real-money Daily Fantasy Sports throughout the state.

Legislators pushing "for"

It isn't much of a surprise that legislators in Louisiana are pushing “for” legalization, considering the situation states and the country as a whole find themselves in with the coronavirus pandemic. Cash infusion will be the main reason for lawmakers to push any plan going forward. Legal sports betting has always been an underlying solution to the problem of budget shortfalls and that fact has only been accelerated the last few months.

The Louisiana Senate was the first to bring up the topic of legal sports betting and legislation easily passed before it was sent to the House. In the House or Representatives, a similar Bill to the one debated in the Senate passed by an overwhelming 71-24 vote.

The plan is now off to the desk of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. He has signaled in the past that he is "for" some sort of legal sports betting platform in the state and given the inevitable coronavirus budget hole he finds himself in, Edwards should be more motivated than ever to get something done.

What the legislation says

Lawmakers, as mentioned have given individual parishes the power to decide whether or not a legal sports betting venue is a fit for their jurisdiction. The legislation will allow the question of sports betting in Louisiana to appear on the 2020 ballot and will give citizens the ultimate say of whether or not to welcome legal sports betting on collegiate and professional sports in their parish.

As it stands, the 50 current gaming properties in Louisiana, which includes commercial casinos, tribal casinos and racetracks are eligible to apply for sports betting permits. Because the parishes have not voted, it remains to be seen which actual providers will obtain licenses.

The legislation at this point is just a framework with no mention of tax rates, what types of legal sports betting will be permitted or anything surrounding the rules and regulations of a potential launch. There is still significant work to be done on any Bill to officially bring legal sports betting to Louisiana.

The road ahead

The prospects for a legal betting platform in 2020 are not great unfortunately – 2021 looks like more of a possibility. Firstly, a legislative rule that allows debate on new taxes in only odd-numbered years makes it impossible for legalization in the state in 2020. There will be no debate on the tax-rate until next year and if nothing happens in 2021, the subject will have to wait until 2023.

Also, the final rules for a legal betting platform still has to be debated, passed by two houses and signed off by the governor before the November election. For all the dominoes to fall perfectly during a legislative session that still has the coronavirus situation and some major race-related issues to deal with, it may be asking too much. And then there is the parishes that have yet to have their say.

But lawmakers will be staring at an enormous budget shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic and will likely be extra-motivated to find a way to drum up some extra revenue to throw at the impending deficit facing the state. Like so many of the states that have yet to welcome some sort of legal sports betting platform to their state, the time is NOW to get something done.