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Louisiana House lawmakers refuse to legalize sports betting

by Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The odds of legalizing sports betting in Louisiana grew even longer Tuesday, growing very near to impossible.

The House Appropriations Committee voted 14-6 to shelve Republican Sen. Danny Martiny’s proposal to allow sports wagering in the state, and an effort to yank the bill from committee later Tuesday also fell short of the votes needed.

By the time the committee rejected the bill, Martiny said it was so overloaded with objectionable amendments that it couldn’t win enough legislative support even if it reached the House floor.

The Senate earlier this session supported legalizing sports betting on professional, college and international sports events at Louisiana’s 16 casinos and four racetracks.

Martiny, of Kenner, said Louisiana residents already are betting on sports through bookies, online offshore sites and neighboring casinos in Mississippi. He said Louisiana should regulate and tax the activity, with the dollars earmarked for early childhood education.

But the House and its budget committee are more conservative than the Senate, with many lawmakers who oppose gambling. Plus, infighting among the state’s gambling community added another layer of difficulty in winning support for the legalization effort.

The video poker industry was successful in getting the House committee to add language expanding sports betting locations to include wagering at the 2,800 truck stops and other locations that have video poker. With that, the casinos’ lobbyist abandoned the measure, saying it couldn’t get the needed votes because it was too expansive.

After the committee vote, Gretna Rep. Joe Marino, who has no party affiliation, tried to revive the sports betting measure.

“Everyone in this room knows a person who has bet on this,” Marino told his colleagues.

Lawmakers in the House voted 48-41 for Marino’s motion to move the bill from the Appropriations Committee to the full House for debate, but the effort needed 53 votes to pass.

Marino could try to tack the language onto another bill or again try to remove Martiny’s proposal from committee. Those efforts would be a longshot.

Martiny has estimated that sports betting could generate between $30 million and $60 million annually for Louisiana. Opponents call the measure an expansion of gambling that could be harmful to families and could worsen addiction problems.

Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, a Jefferson Parish Republican, expressed frustration that “everyone seems to think the only way we can fund early-childhood education is for people to go to a casino and lose money.”

Martiny’s proposal would steer most of the tax money raised to early-childhood education programs. Separate legislation would set up a 13 percent tax rate on net proceeds gambling facilities receive from sports betting, but that also has stalled in the House, unable to gain support.

Before any betting could begin, voters would have to decide on a parish-by-parish basis in the Oct. 12 election whether to allow the new form of gambling at the facilities.

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