For the third time in as many years, lawmakers in Louisiana are looking to let voters decide whether or not to legalize sports betting in a ballot slated for November.
On May 5, members of the state’s Senate Judiciary B Committee easily passed two bills which will add sports betting to the November ballot.
Voters Would Approve Sports Betting on Parish-by-Parish Basis
Senate Bill 378 and Senate Bill 130, sponsored by state senators Ronnie Johns (R-27) and Cameron Henry (R-9), respectively—Contain identical language calling on voters to settle what is a contentious issue in the politically conservative Bayou State:
“At the statewide election occurring on November 3, 2020, a proposition shall appear on the ballot in every parish to determine whether sports wagering activities and operations shall be permitted in the parish.”
Louisiana is home to 64 parishes – the local equivalent of counties in other states – and each parish must individually approve any expansion to their gambling and taxation laws. In 2018, voters in 47 parishes approved a measure to legalize the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry.
Despite that widespread support on the parish level, which covered 92 percent of Louisiana’s population, lawmakers failed last year to pass a bill crafting the regulatory, licensing, and tax framework for legal DFS.
One reason for that failure is the 66 percent supermajority voting threshold needed for the Legislature to approve any additional taxes.
Lawmakers Take ‘Wait and See’ Approach on Sports Betting
Both of the sports betting bills sent from the Judiciary B Committee to the Finance Committee this week are crafted in a similar fashion to 2018’s stalled DFS legislation.
Rather than codify the regulatory and taxation language now, Johns and Henry are simply asking for voter approval before cutting through the red tape. From there, lawmakers would spend the 2021 session attempting to reach the same 66 percent threshold which has thus far derailed their DFS efforts.
In an interview with Legal Sports Report, Henry confirmed that he and his fellow sports betting supporters simply don’t have the time needed to cobble together a comprehensive bill to support a Louisiana sports betting ballot:
“It’s going to be a very significant debate on who is able to do it, how, and what the regulations will be.
While dealing with COVID-19, we’re trying to hold back on bills that take a lot of debate.
We’re just going to pass the referendum bill, see if folks like it and next year, start the process of putting regulations in a bill that we’ll have months to work on rather than days or weeks.”
Louisiana’s legislative session began on March 9, but within six days, the ongoing coronavirus outbreak forced a seven-week recess. And while lawmakers are back at work beginning this week, an adjournment date of June 1 gives them a deadline less than four weeks out.
Henry remains optimistic that SB-130 will get a full floor vote in the Senate next week, but state senator Barrow Peacock (R-37) has reservations about the two-thirds requirement for expanded taxes in 2021.
As he told Legal Sports Report, Peacock sees history repeating itself with lawmakers passing the proverbial buck to voters:
“I have people who want to do fantasy sports in Louisiana and they cannot do it because we cannot get a two-thirds vote in this legislature to tax it.
We are again going down the path that if we ask people to do sports wagering and it passes by almost 60% and we still do not have it, citizens of Louisiana are going to be upset with us as they are with fantasy sports.”