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Louisiana iGaming Bill Dies Early; Lawmakers Look to Further Study

Just one month after the issue was raised, a bill which would ask Louisiana voters to approve online gambling regulation has been shelved by state lawmakers.

State senator Daniel Martiny (R-10) introduced Senate Bill 322 on March 2. If it had passed, voters across Louisiana’s 64 parishes would answer the following question via public referendum on the November ballot:

“Shall internet gaming be allowed to be conducted within the parish of _____?”

Any parish that voted to approve iGaming regulation would have been free to launch online casinos or poker rooms, through partnership with one of the Bayou State’s 20 licensed commercial casinos.

But Martiny – a senior lawmaker since 1994 who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee – was unable to sway his colleagues on the Senate Committee on Judiciary (B), which ultimately voted to defer further action on SB-322.

Martiny opened his remarks by observing that iGaming regulation isn’t a pet project of his, but rather a sensible means of solving the state’s looming budget crisis:

“I’d like to tell you that I put a tremendous amount of thought in before I drafted this bill, but I’ll be honest with you.

It really is a result of what we’ve been doing for the last two years. We’ve been up here for the last two years, trying to fix this fiscal cliff.

This isn’t my life’s passion. I’m just telling you we’re broke, and nobody else has any ideas of how we can fix it.”

A combination of tax reductions and revenue shortfalls has put Louisiana on the precipice of a $1 billion budget deficit, a situation Martiny believes iGaming could help remedy.

On that note, Martiny enlisted the aid of Thomas Winter – who serves as senior vice president of online gaming for the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City – to sing the praises of New Jersey’s regulated iGaming industry.

Under the stewardship of Winter, the Golden Nugget’s group of licensed online casino platforms has led New Jersey’s monthly iGaming revenue reports for 15 consecutive months. Thus, Winter was well positioned to explain how the Garden State generated $245 million in total iGaming revenue in 2017 – sending $3 million per month into state coffers in the process.

Winter’s testimony took up the bulk of SB-322’s hearing time, and in the end, it appeared to earn the support of at least one lawmaker.

State senator Norby Chabert (R-20) told Martiny that he firmly believed legalized iGaming would be coming to Louisiana – just not yet anyhow:

“This is coming. It’s going to come to every single state.

Senator (Martiny), would you be willing to – because we need to figure out a way to put together a taxing apparatus and how the state’s going to claim some revenue – could we possibly refer this to a study resolution?

If we kill it, it dies. If we agree to make it a study resolution, we keep looking at it.”

After Martiny agreed to shelve the bill, state senator Gary Smith (D-19) advised the formation of a task force, similar to that used by the legislature when studying expanding the scope of riverboat casino law:

“That was a very thorough task force that had industry individuals involved, it had legislators, it had the state police.”

“We’re just going to have to learn,” said Jeff Traylor of the Gaming Enforcement Division. “See how everyone else does it and figure it out. I mean, put it together the best we can.”

The lone source of opposition to SB-322 came from the Louisiana Video Gaming Association (LVGA), a lobby group representing slot and video poker machine manufacturers and land-based casinos.

Alton Ashy, chairman of the LVGA, told the committee that iGaming would cannibalize business from brick and mortar casinos:

“This bill, internet gaming, we think will devastate the industry, because people are just going to stay home.”

Winter refuted that notion by pointing to the Golden Nugget AC’s demographic data, which shows the average land-based casino visitor is 58 years old, while the baseline for the venue’s iGaming patronage is just 42.