If the latest proposal in the Louisiana State Senate is enacted, the registered voters in the state will decide for themselves whether to allow sports betting in their own neighborhoods.
SB153, which was read on the full Senate floor Monday and is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday evening, would amend existing gaming laws in the state to allow license holders to legally accept wagers on single sporting events and prop bets based on sporting events. The language of the bill largely reflects similar measures enacted in other states.
If enacted by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, the provisions of the new law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. At that point, individuals 21 years of age could begin to place bets at authorized facilities, if their neighbors approve that is.
The bill resembles the framework of the current law in neighboring Mississippi in terms of mobile wagering. Bettors may place their bets on mobile devices if the device is physically located within the geofenced borders of an authorized establishment. Nevada and New Jersey would continue to be the only states where mobile betting untethered to a physical location is allowed under the law.
The bill is unique in that it calls for a state-wide referendum on Oct. 12 in which each parish’s voters will decide whether to allow sports betting within the borders of their own parish. Bills in other states have proposed referendums to decide the issue of sports betting legality, but the ballot measures proposed in those bills would have authorized the activity statewide, as opposed to local jurisdictions.
The proposed changes to the law would put the state’s Gaming Control Board in charge of issuing licenses to riverboats, race tracks, and land-based casinos within the state’s borders. The board would also be charged with ensuring compliance with other tenets of the law, like making sure the sportsbook records are kept separate and no wagers from people who could influence the outcome of the sporting events are betting on those events.
The five-year license would enable the facilities to establish self-service kiosks on their grounds in addition to accepting wagers at a traditional window. The bill’s language contains no restraints on the type of or level of sports wagered upon. Some bills in other states, like the latest bill in Texas, prohibit wagering on college sports to some degree.
The bill also makes no provisions requiring that sportsbooks share their data with professional sports leagues, use official data provided by the leagues to set bets or pay any percentage of their handle to the leagues as an “integrity” or “rights” fee.
Louisiana followed a similar approach with a daily fantasy sports legalization bill last year. Voters in around three-fourths of parishes, including the 10 most populated, voted to allow the games.
If the ballot measure is approved by voters in some parishes but defeated in others, the state could - in theory - become a patchwork of places where sports betting is and is not legal. That might result in some confusion for potential bettors as well as relegate the legal action to certain parts of the state.
There are currently 28 facilities in the state which could be expected to apply for licenses under the language of this bill. The parishes of Bossier, Calcasieu, and Orleans contain 15 of those 28, with the Allen, Avoyelles, Caddo, East Baton Rouge, Grant, Jefferson, St. Landry and St. Mary parishes splitting the other 13 disparately. If the legality of sports betting in each parish is ultimately determined by the parish’s voters, expect the propaganda campaigns for a yes vote to be most intense in those parishes.
Louisiana would bring one of the nation's most passionate fan basses into the legal sports betting sphere. College football and basketball programs at LSU, the NFL's New Orleans Saints all have legendary supporters, and the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans are also gaining a foothold in a state long obsessed with its flagship university's athletic teams and beloved professional football team.
The Senate is scheduled for a vote on the measure Tuesday evening, while the House is set to take up its own sports wagering legalization bill Wednesday. If passed by the Senate, SB 153 would then go to the House, which could vote to approve the upper chamber’s proposal or merge it with its own.