Louisiana Legislature

In this Oct. 25, 2018, photo, employees prepare to take bets moments before the new sports book at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City, N.J., opened. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)

Thirteen of Louisiana’s 20 traditional casinos have applied to handle sports wagering — the other seven are expected to apply before the Jan. 1 deadline — and the first applicants are close to being able to start booking bets on baseball, football, and other events.

Gambling’s chief regulator, Ronnie Johns, has the power to sign a “temporary certificate of operation” that would immediately allow a casino to start offering sports betting — at least for in-person, on-premises wagering.

“It’s possible, but I seriously doubt I’ll have any to sign in the next two weeks,” said Johns, who chairs the Gaming Control Board. “But I am anticipating some recommendations very soon.”

He is still awaiting the results of the Louisiana State Police’s required vetting of operators, personnel and procedures. Casinos are required to set up a lounge that limits access to bettors 21 years of age and older. All those plans and security procedures need to be reviewed, too.

Johns said Hurricane Ida delayed the process for about two weeks as the troopers handling the investigations were reassigned to storm rescue and recovery. They’re now back to doing the required suitability studies on sports betting applications.

Several of the casinos are ready to go, once the paperwork is out of the way, said Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association. The Baton Rouge-based organization is the trade association for the 20 so-called “brick and mortar” establishments that the state has licensed to operate casinos on riverboats, at racetracks and on land in New Orleans.

Initially, wagers will be taken only in temporary sportsbook lounges inside a casino, Duty said. Several of casinos are building multi-million-dollar facilities with banks of televisions and other amenities, but that’s down the road. The 80-some-odd pages of new laws and 30 pages of new regulations also will allow sports wagering on smartphones and from computers.

Each of the 20 casinos will contract with two providers to handle geofencing, software and other equipment for betting over the phone and online. Unlike the casinos, which already have been investigated by the State Police, the contractors need a time-consuming full review, Duty said.

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Additionally, the Louisiana Lottery Corp. was authorized to oversee sports betting kiosks that would be placed in the bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. The Lottery is still working on its rules and doesn’t expect to be up and going until January or later.

Meanwhile, Paragon Casino Resort, which is owned by Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana south of Marksville, opened its sportsbook lounge Wednesday. Several television stations showed Joe Horn, the retired New Orleans Saints wide receiver, enter the casino’s new lounger and place the first bet. Horn played a longshot parlay with a large payout, in which Horn had to pick the winners in seven games to win his bet.

Paragon and four other Louisiana casinos owned by Native American tribes are licensed by the federal government and not regulated by the state. Their compacts allow Native American casinos to operate games that the state's voters approve. Otherwise, those casinos pay no state taxes and don't answer to state law.

In November 2020, voters 55 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes approved allowing sports betting in their parishes. Earlier this year, the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards established laws that spell out how sportsbooks would be licensed, operated, and taxed.

Wagers would be taxed at 10%, if the bets are placed in casino sportsbook lounges and at 15% on cellphones or websites. The taxes would be on the net proceeds — the amount left over after bets are covered — and would be paid by the primary licensees.

Gambling is expected to contribute $644.2 million in revenues, without including sports betting proceeds, to this fiscal year’s budget. Behind income and sales taxes, gambling is the largest contributor to the state’s $9.9 billion general fund.

The Gaming Control Board meets on Oct. 21.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.