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Lawmakers To Debate Legalizing Sports Betting In Louisiana

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Harrah's Casino, New Orleans

State Senator Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) will again push the Legislature to legalize sports betting in Louisiana.

Like it or not, he says, the industry is already operating in the state, just under the table. 

“Anybody who believes that if my bill fails Louisiana won’t have any sports betting activity is very naive,” said Martiny.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year cleared the way for states to legalize wagers on sports. Sports betting is legal in eight states now, including Mississippi and Arkansas.

Martiny worries that because Louisiana casinos don’t take sports bets, gamblers are driving across state lines to spend their money.  He’d rather they spend those dollars here.

“It would provide us with some revenue, but the main thing it’d do is stop us from losing revenue to other states,” he explained.

Senator Martiny estimates sports betting could generate anywhere from $20 million to $40 million a year. Some lawmakers are eyeing that revenue as a way to increase funding for early childhood education.

Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a non-partisan public policy group, says lawmakers are often conflicted about dedicating the state’s revenue to specific projects.

“The historical record is that legislators all the time are talking about how they don’t like dedications and all the time are finding new ways to dedicate money," he said.

The more dedicated funds, the less flexibility lawmakers have to budget.

Scott suggests that “if they decide that early childhood education is important, which it is, they should just appropriate money for it.”

Senator Martiny is open to dedicating the revenue to early childhood education, but doesn’t expect that to be the only program competing for the money.

“I can tell you there’s nothing fixed on that and the chances of them getting all the money are probably not good."

Lawmakers will debate both the legalization of sports betting and whether or not it's revenue should be dedicated in the session beginning Monday, April 8th.