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Louisiana Senate backs sports betting legalization bill

Odds boards at a race and sports book in Las Vegas | via Flickr by GOSUB

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana senators agreed Tuesday to legalize sports betting within the footprint of the state’s casinos and racetracks, with the bill’s sponsor arguing that gamblers already are making the wagers but without the state benefiting from the activity.

The measure by Republican Sen. Danny Martiny would limit bets to Louisiana’s 16 casinos and four racetracks, including by mobile phone in areas restricted to patrons who are at least 21 years old. Bets could be made at the casino bar, but not in casino hotel rooms, for example.

Martiny, of Kenner, said the proposal would help Louisiana’s gambling industry compete with the casinos in neighboring Mississippi, where sports betting is legal. He said Louisiana residents already are wagering on sports through offshore accounts or travel to Mississippi — but without Louisiana getting to tax the activity.

“We get not one penny from the offshore sites. We get not one penny from Mississippi. We get not one penny from the bookies,” Martiny said.

The majority-Republican Senate voted 24-15 for the proposal, sending it to the House for consideration, where it faces a tougher road to passage in the more conservative chamber.

No one spoke in opposition during floor debate, but critics have argued the bill would worsen gambling addiction in Louisiana.

Martiny dismissed such claims, saying of sports betting: “Like it or not, it’s here. And it’s going to be here whether we legalize it or not.”

Sports betting could generate between $30 million and $60 million annually for Louisiana, Martiny estimated. His bill would steer 1% of the net proceeds or $500,000, whichever is greater, to a program aimed at combating compulsive gambling, and the rest of the taxes would go to early childhood education programs.

Separate legislation under consideration in the House would set up the tax rates.

Before any betting could begin, voters in the parishes with casinos and racetracks 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. And the state gambling board would have to enact regulations.

Similar legislation failed to gain traction in the Senate last year. But that was before a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed sports wagering nationwide.

Six states already allow sports betting, and others are considering it. Tennessee recently passed sports betting legislation, with Gov. Bill Lee announcing Tuesday he plans to let the measure become law without his signature.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he supports the legalization of sports wagering.