(The Center Square) – A Louisiana legislative committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would let Louisiana voters decide if betting on sports will be allowed in their parishes.
Legalizing sports betting was one of the most contentious issues at last year’s session. Former state Sen. Danny Martiny’s bill passed the Senate but was weighed down with unfriendly amendments in the House and fell short.
But on Tuesday, a Senate judiciary committee advanced Senate Bill 130 with little discussion and no objections. Ironically, state Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, whom Martiny accused last year of treating his bill unfairly when Henry was chairman of House Appropriations, is sponsoring the new measure. Legislators also advanced an identical bill by Sen. Ronnie Johns, a Lake Charles Republican.
Gambling opponents object to any expansion of gaming in the state, arguing that even with high tax rates the costs outweigh the benefits. But sports betting proponents say Louisiana casinos, which are an important revenue source for state government, ought to be able to compete on a level playing field with those in neighboring states that already have legalized betting on sports, especially after being shut down as part of the effort to contain the new coronavirus.
Henry’s bill would not limit sports betting to certain facilities, nor does it set tax rates or define who would be allowed to place bets. It simply would let residents vote for or against legalizing sports betting in their parishes, requiring lawmakers to work out the details next year.
Lawmakers tried to follow a similar approach in legalizing fantasy sports, in which websites like DraftKings and FanDuel charge players fees and award prize money. Voters in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes legalized the practice in 2018, but they couldn’t play legally until legislators approved the tax rate and regulations.
But Martiny, in a last-ditch effort to get sports betting to the polls, attached his bill to the fantasy sports measure. When it was stripped back out, an angry Martiny ran out the clock on the final moments of the 2019 session and prevented the fantasy sports bill from coming to a final vote.
State Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, on Tuesday reminded senators of last year’s fantasy sports failure, calling it “very disheartening” that the online games still cannot legally be played in parishes where voters legalized the practice. Even if sports betting is legalized, getting two-thirds of legislators to approve the necessary taxes will be difficult, he warned.
This year’s regular session is non-fiscal, which means new taxes cannot be approved and therefore the fantasy sports regulations still cannot be finalized. However, lawmakers expressed hope the subject would be revisited if a special session is called as expected.
The committee also advanced a bill by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, that would allow stores and restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages using third-party companies that employ contractors. When lawmakers legalized alcohol delivery last year, they required delivery companies to use direct employees, which is not the industry’s typical model, and few permits have been issued.
Allain’s bill also would eliminate the requirement that only low-alcohol-content beverages can be delivered and expands the delivery area from 10 miles to 25 miles from the place of purchase. Drivers would be licensed much like bartenders and would be subject to the same penalties if they serve someone who is under the legal drinking age, he said.
“If this situation with the COVID-19 and the emergency we are having isn’t evidence enough that we need delivery of alcohol, I can’t imagine what is,” Allain said.