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Legal Sports Betting Gets First Hearing In Louisiana Legislature

Wallis Watkins
Senator Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) presented his bill to legalize sports betting to the Senate Judiciary B committee Tueday, April 23.

A bill to legalize betting on professional and college sports in Louisiana casinos started advancing in the Senate Tuesday.

“It’s not a big money maker, but if we don’t do it, it puts us at a distinct disadvantage,” Senator Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) told members of a Senate judiciary committee.

Senator Martiny estimates sports betting could bring in between $40 million and $60 million a year. But more importantly, he says, people would no longer have to drive to Mississippi and Arkansas to spend their money. Both states have already legalized sports betting in their casinos.

While the bill cleared committee on a 3-1 vote, members focused in on one aspect of the measure, mobile gaming.

“The future of sports betting is in mobile gaming.  I'm just trying to adderss that in a very limited way in this bill,” he explained. 

Mobile gaming allows bets to be placed through an app. In Martiny’s bill, mobile bets would only be allowed on the casino floor. But in Mississippi, you can place a bet on a football game from your hotel room or the pool, meaning more bets and money can be made.

Martiny is concerned broadening the mobile gaming area would jeopardize the bill.  Opponents, who are already worried about the expansion of gambling in the state, say mobile gaming will make it easier for compulsive gamblers or even teenagers to place bets.

“It’s time for us to do better than financing our state on the back of a vice," said David Cranford, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Ponchatoula, speaking in opposition to the bill.

Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) was the lone vote against the measure. Peterson, who recently came forward with her own gambling addiction, says 90 percent of people can gamble in a responsible way, “but for those that can’t, they can’t be ignored. I have not heard enough from you at the table who are involved in the industry to make sure that 10 percent is covered.” 

Senator Martiny supports allocating money from sports betting revenue to fund treatment for compulsive gambling.  A separate instrument in the House, supported by Martiny, would set the tax rate on sports betting at 12 percent, a rate that could be changed as negotiations continue.  As it stands now, $100,000 from the tax revenue would go to the Compulsive and Problem Gaming Fund.  The remainder would be dedicated to early childhood education.

If Martiny's bill clears two-thirds of the Legislature, voters in each parish would decide whether or not to allow sports betting.  Though the betting would only be allowed in the state's land-based casino in New Orleans, 15 riverboat casinos, and four race tracks.