On the final day of the legislative session last week, longtime state senator Danny Martiny (R-10) essentially ran out the clock on a pivotal tax bill designed to allocate revenue collected from regulated DFS operators. Speaking directly to colleagues straight through the 6 p.m. local time deadline for regular session voting, Martiny explained his reasoning for refusing to allow a vote on House Bill 600:
“I don’t think this is the way you do business. I don’t like the way that I was treated. I would feel the same way if any of my colleagues were treated this way.”
Martiny – who will see his time in the state Senate end in 2020 via term limits after a 26-year tenure – sponsored a traditional Louisiana sports betting bill and successfully guided it to Senate passage in April. But when colleagues in the House of Representatives received Senate Bill 153, they added “poison pills” designed to make passage unpalatable.
Among the more controversial amendments tacked on to the Louisiana sports betting bill by the House Appropriations Committee were allowances for up to 2,800 existing video poker operators to install sports wagering kiosks, and a so-called “integrity fee” paid by operators to professional leagues.
Martiny then tried to find a workaround by attaching his original bill to House Bill 459, which establishes a regulatory framework for DFS, and HB-600 on DFS taxes. These “hitchhiker” amendments forced both bills into conference committee, where Martiny’s rival state representative Cameron Henry (R-82) – author of the aforementioned poison pill amendments that killed the sports betting bill – struck them down.
Martiny responded to the slight by stalling for time to end the session. In light of the state constitution’s mandate that bills dealing with taxation can only be taken up in odd-numbered years, Louisiana can’t roll out legal DFS or approve sports betting until 2021 at the earliest.
Speaking to WVUE-TV Fox 8 News after the session ended, Martiny detailed his reasoning for filibustering a DFS bill he ostensibly supports:
“Once they bottled my bill up and they got to the point of the conference committee process I went over to the those people and I said, ‘I tell you what I will do, we won’t give the authority to the casinos or the land-based [casinos] or the racetrack, all I want you to do is recognize sports betting as an allowable form of gaming and let us have a referendum. And the response from the House conferees was we’re not putting anything in the bill that will in anyway help sports betting.”
Ironically, it was Martiny who lambased fellow lawmakers for their inaction only last year, as he delivered a fiery speech following the failure of his 2018 Louisiana sports betting bill:
“But as usual we’re going to be two-years behind everyone else. Even Mississippi is way ahead of us on this. So in our quest to be number 50 in everything, here’s another one. You do what you want. I’m just telling you we’re the laughingstock of the country.”
Last November, when a ballot referendum asked voters in Louisiana to weigh in on legal DFS, nearly 850,000 of them approved of the industry.
Per the industry lobby group Fairness for Fantasy Sports Louisiana (FFSL), 47 of the state’s 64 parishes – accounting for 90 percent of the state population – voted in favor of DFS regulation.
In a statement, FFSL spokesman Ryan Berni lamented the lack of leadership shown by the Legislature:
“Today is a sad day for all Louisianians. Voters should be outraged as it has been made abundantly clear that the legislature is broken. Senators allowed personal politics to prevail, rather than the desires of the people they claim to represent.”
Berni went on to issue a call to arms for DFS and sports betting enthusiasts, urging them to use their votes to effect change:
“What’s most discouraging is that the members who were appointed to the conference committees came from districts that overwhelmingly voted to permit fantasy sports. The question we now have to ask ourselves is, what is the point of having an election on issues if the legislators we send to Baton Rouge to create the appropriate regulatory framework and tax structure refuse to do so? What we need are elected leaders who actually vote for laws that their constituents want.”