BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The House Appropriations Committee killed a bill Tuesday, May 28 that would have allowed voters to decide whether people could place bets on college and professional sporting events in their parishes. The full House also killed two separate attempts to essentially resurrect the bill, meaning the concept is likely dead for the year.
The bill, authored by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, would have dedicated most revenue from the gaming expansion to early childhood education. He said “realistically” the bill could bring in as much as $45 million, though some lawmakers have disputed that number.
“This levels the playing field and allows our casinos to compete on a level basis with our neighbors,” Martiny said.
Martiny has consistently argued that legalizing sports betting could provide a boost to some of the state’s struggling casinos. Mississippi and Arkansas passed similar legislation and saw subsequent revenue increases.
“It seems like every legislature in the country is now in a situation where they are taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling that allows for sports betting,” Martiny said, arguing that shooting his bill down would send patrons to casinos in other states.
Still, lawmakers argued that approving sports betting could ensnare susceptible Louisianans in a cycle of addiction and bankruptcy.
Martiny retorted that, because Louisianans are betting on sports in other states or illegally, Louisiana currently gets all of the potential problems associated with gaming expansion and none of the revenue benefits that might come with the legalization of the practice.
The bill was drafted so patrons could only place bets on the gaming floors of Louisiana’s 20 casinos, racetracks, and riverboats, but lawmakers added an amendment in committee that would have allowed sports betting anywhere there’s a video poker machine, potentially 2,800 venues.
Some lawmakers who oppose gaming expansion voted for the increase, knowing the change would make the final version of the bill harder to pass. The bill was also caught in a revenue-sharing fight involving horse breeders and racing associations.
“I think when you already have the opposition about sports betting in general, and then you add to it more complications, the more complicated you make it, the easier it is for people to not vote for it," Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna, said.
Marino carried the taxing and regulation component of the plan, which died earlier in the session and was not resuscitated Tuesday.
“If we don’t do it, we’re leaving all that money on the table,” Marino said. “Our casinos and our industry needs to be competitive with surrounding states.”
He said the early childhood education funding is what drove him "to keep pushing this bill.”
Lawmakers on the House floor noted the current version of the state’s operating budget carries a $20 million bump to pre-k funding. The budget’s author, Rep. Cameron Henry, said a vote against sports betting is not necessarily a vote against schooling.