People will not be allowed to begin playing fantasy sports in Louisiana.
Nor will they be allowed to vote on whether to legalize betting on college and professional games.
Efforts to move forward with both forms of gambling failed on Thursday in Baton Rouge during the final chaotic minutes of the 2019 legislative session.
The unexpected development left bitter feelings between the Republican lawmakers from Jefferson Parish who pushed their competing gambling measures.
“We’re going to look like fools,” state Rep. Kirk Talbot, the sponsor of the fantasy sports measures, said in an interview.
People in 47 parishes voted in November to allow fantasy sports in their parishes, but they could not begin playing until the Legislature approved Talbot’s measures to establish the rules and the tax rate.
“Unfortunately, there’s another side of this building that doesn’t play by the rules,” state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, told his Senate colleagues just before the clock hit 6 p.m. and the Legislature adjourned. “I don’t like the way I was treated.”
The abrupt ending followed a standoff between supporters of sports betting and fantasy sports throughout the day.
Earlier in the session, the Senate had approved Martiny’s sports betting measure, Senate Bill 153, which would have called an election in October on whether to legalize sports betting at the state’s 20 casinos.
Meanwhile, the more conservative House favored only setting the rules and tax rate for fantasy sports. This would be carried out through House Bill 459 and House Bill 600, both sponsored by Talbot, R-River Ridge.
Playing fantasy sports has become a popular way for fans to follow their favorite sport. For an entry fee, fans create their own rosters online from players on all the teams. They compete against other fans elsewhere in the United States in football, basketball and other professional sports. Whoever’s team performs best wins the pot.
In addition to playing over an entire season, players can choose a slate of players for a single day of games in baseball or basketball or a weekend of games in football or a golf tournament. FanDuel and DraftKings, which run most of the websites, can pay winners as much as $1 million in contests involving tens of thousands of players.
Earlier in the session, the House had approved Talbot’s measures but rejected Martiny’s as an unacceptable expansion of gambling.
Martiny, who because of term limits ended 26 years in the Legislature on Thursday, didn’t give up. He got the Senate to attach his sports betting bill onto Talbot’s fantasy sports bills.
Talbot got the House to reject legalizing both fantasy sports and sports betting. State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, aided Talbot’s efforts at one point by making himself scarce from the House to prevent the House from taking up Talbot’s bills. Henry had to be in the chamber because he chaired the legislative committee that heard Talbot’s bills.
The various moves forced Talbot’s bills – with Martiny’s attached sports betting language on them – into what is known as a conference committee. It consisted of three senators (including Martiny) and three House members (including Talbot).
For much of the day, the House conferees wanted the conference committee to report a bill that would remove sports betting and only create the rules and tax rate for fantasy sports. But this would require the approval of Martiny and one of the two other Senate conferees. They would not agree to this.
State Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, was a conferee who stood with Martiny.
“I think the public has a right to have a say on sports betting,” Smith said in an interview at 4 p.m. “Without doing that, we’re holding Louisiana back, considering our competitors to the east and the north.”
But shortly after 5 p.m., with less than an hour to adjournment, Smith agreed to side with Talbot and the House. He agreed to a conference committee report that stripped out the sports betting language.
“At the end of the day, I thought it was important to give the people what they had voted for,” Smith said in an interview afterward. “I wanted to give Kirk his due.”
The House approved HB459 on a 70 to 27 vote.
At 5:55 p.m., the Senate followed suit, 25-12.
But then a question arose about whether HB459 needed a two-thirds approval, or 26 votes. Three minutes of uncertainty passed before Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, ruled that the bill needed only 20 votes.
For fantasy sports to become legal in Louisiana, the Legislature also had to approve Talbot’s HB600. Now the Senate had only two minutes to approve it. Martiny objected, and he talked long enough to prevent the Senate from voting on the bill before adjournment, in his final move as a state legislator.
The Legislature can try to approve fantasy sports next year only if the governor calls a special session.