Louisiana Sessions Opens

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, presides over opening day of the Louisiana legislative session in this file photo taken on Monday, April 12, 2021. 

Louisiana bettors got a step closer to being able to start wagering on sporting events by fall if the governor approves the second of two bills that is about to clear the Legislature.

Senate Bill 247, which sets up the protocols and oversight, passed the Louisiana House on Thursday night on a vote of 78-15. But Rep. John Stefanski, the House sponsor of the Senate-passed legislation, attached last-minute amendments that he said were worked out with Senate sponsors. But that means the measure needs to return to the upper chamber for it to concur with that additional language.

The other necessary instrument is House Bill 697, which sets up taxes and fees; it passed last week and already sits on the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Voters in 55 of the state’s 64 parishes — with nearly two-thirds of the voters statewide approving — chose to participate. Before residents can actually place a bet on a sporting event, legislators need to pass laws that set up how it would be done. That’s what these two bills do.

Under the language combined in SB247 and HB697, bettors can place wagers on football games or other sporting events on smartphones, in casinos, or at kiosks in bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages — hopefully by football season. Should Edwards sign the two bills, as expected, the next step would be for the Gaming Control Board to produce some rules and start vetting applications.

Only the 20 existing casinos can apply for the base licenses, and all of them already are known entities to the state and have been vetted. State authorities likely would update their existing license investigations. Each casino will be able to license two providers that will handle betting on smartphones. Those partners, most of which have been licensed in other states, can receive a temporary permission that the legislative leaders hope will jump-start the betting by the fall.

“It should come together fairly quickly,” said Wade Duty, executive director at the Louisiana Casino Association, which represents most gambling houses in the state.

Slowdowns in the process probably would come from the third piece, that is, the companies that would provide specific apps for cellphone wagering, such as those providing geofencing programming that ensures the bets are being placed from one of the 55 parishes whose voters agreed to allow sports betting, Duty said.

“That, and how fast the industry gets their applications in,” Duty said, would dictate how fast sports betting gets up and running.

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The legislation requires that in addition to operating online betting, the casinos also need to operate out of sports betting lounges built on the property. Some casinos may set up areas where bettors can eat and drink while watching sporting events on big-screen televisions, while others may have more direct windows to take bets.

Nevertheless, Duty said, the casinos will have to spend some money to set up the controlled space for sports betting to keep out those younger than 21, plus having camera surveillance, security measures and accounting, and meeting reporting requirements along with a raft of other nuts-and-bolts requirements.

“It’s an amenity that obviously the people wanted and we'll put it in for them,” Duty said.

Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, sets out that the 20 casinos on riverboats, on land and at racetracks will have to pay $250,000 to apply and clear a vetting that’s not unlike the one they’ve already undergone. Once an applicant has cleared the suitability requirements, the casino then will have to pay $500,000 for the license, which will last for five years.

House Bill 697, sponsored by Rep. Stefanski, R-Crowley, set taxes bets placed in licensed establishments at 10% and at 15% on cellphones or websites. The taxes would be on the net proceeds — the amount left over after bets are covered — paid by the casinos. The money would go into “Sports Wagering Enforcement Fund” in the state treasury.

The Louisiana Lottery Corp. would be allowed to contract a provider to handle sports betting kiosks that would be placed in bars and restaurants serving alcoholic beverages. The lottery expects to spend about $16.4 million to buy 1,000 terminals. The kiosk vendors want 40% of the net proceeds annually.

Louisiana State Police anticipates needing to hire 19 additional people to regulate this new form of gambling, including six auditors, two compliance specialists, 10 investigators and one staff officer, according to the legislation. Attorney General Jeff Landry wants to hire two more assistant attorneys general and an administrative assistant. The costs, which would be paid out the fee revenues, would be about $2.3 million annually.

A third bill, Senate Bill 142, by state Sen. Rick Ward, a Port Allen Republican, would divvy up the revenues generated by sports betting. That measure passed the Senate on Wednesday and now heads to the House for consideration before the legislative session ends at 6 p.m. June 10. SB142’s passage is not necessary to begin sports betting.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.