Sports Betting

In this June 27, 2019 photo, a gambler places a bet at the new sportsbook at Bally's casino in Atlantic City, N.J. New Jersey surpassed Nevada in terms of sports betting volume in May, taking the national lead for the first time. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

For the second time in two years, voters in all 64 parishes will decide individually whether to authorize a new form of sports betting.

In 2018, voters in 47 of 64 parishes voted to legalize online sports fantasy games for cash prizes, including in East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and Orleans parishes.

This time, parish voters are being asked whether they want to legalize sports betting on football games and other contests, and the results may follow the geographic breakdown from two years ago.

The proposal is separate from the seven constitutional amendments also on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Backers say the change would mean jobs, dollars for state services and capture revenue now going to Mississippi and elsewhere that allow sports wagering in casinos.

"This is a revenue-generator," said state Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie and sponsor of the 2020 legislation that resulted in the ballot measure.

"Everybody is struggling with the sales tax," Henry noted, a reference to the sharp decline in government receipts because of the coronavirus pandemic. "This would obviously be an addition to anything they would normally receive."

However, even parishes that approve the measure on Nov. 3 will not be open to the additional gambling until 2022 or so.

The Legislature would have to hammer out rules on how sports gaming would be taxed, and exactly what form it would take.

Questions include whether the betting would be limited to casinos, like in Mississippi, or allow betting through the internet and smart phones.

"If we focus strictly on a bricks-and-mortar system that will not be as beneficial to the state as if we move to more of an online model," said Henry, former chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

How much sports betting would raise for state or local governments is not clear.

Retail and digital gambling companies could net $330 million per year, according to a report by a gambling consultant cited in an analysis of the proposal -- http://parlouisiana.org/publications-by-date/guide-to-the-constitutional-amendments/ -- by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.

"We’re losing out on more than $330 million in taxable revenue while states next door like Arkansas and Mississippi use sports wagering revenues for education and infrastructure," said Richard Carbo, an official with Louisiana Wins, the group helping to lead the push.

"That revenue could be used to fund roads and bridges or help fill gaps in education funding here in Louisiana," Carbo said.

"Supporting this proposal keeps our tax dollars here in Louisiana to fund our priorities. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved this plan, and now the voters can have their say."

The campaign is similar to the one in 2018 on fantasy games.

Two donors to Louisiana Wins — DraftKings and FanDuel — have contributed more than half of the $975,500 raised so far, according to the group's Oct. 5 campaign finance report.

DraftKings donated $250,000 and FanDuel $250,000.

The same two sports fantasy firms donated most of the $1 million raised by fantasy game backers in 2018.

Louisiana Wins is airing TV and radio aids and has spent $560,355, according to the report.

It has $415,145 on hand.

The Louisiana Family Forum, which calls itself a promoter of traditional family values, criticized the 2018 ballot measure and has concerns about this one too.

"The effort to lure Louisiana into sports betting is a well-funded campaign by out of state operators who specialize in online gambling," Gene Mills, president of the group, said in an email response to questions.

"Louisiana Family Forum opposes sports betting because it, like other forms of wagering, drains personal wealth from Louisiana citizens promising payouts which are realistically -undeliverable. This results in life-altering losses for the gambler family. Louisiana taxpayers are left to pick up the broken pieces of bad bets and the lives they destroy."

"Of particular concern with sports wagering is the radical changes it brings to sports marketing and the consumption of sports entertainment as well the onramp it engineers to 24/7 online gambling by minors and gambling addicts alike,!" Mills said.

"The ballot proposition is extremely short on details regarding how the state will protect minors from predatory marketers and fence off parishes which reject sports betting," he added.

PAR noted in its analysis that critics view the plan as a major expansion of gambling, say it would especially target younger people and note that claims of major revenue gains are often overstated.

Sen. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, voted "no" this year on the legislation that sent the issue to voters.

"I am just opposed to any form of betting," Pope said.

Sports wagering is allowed in 18 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Council for a Better Louisiana.

CABL said four other states have recently passed laws making it legal and that Louisiana is one of nine states weighing whether to legalize it in some form.

A 2018 ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court paved the way for the state action.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.