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)

The state Senate overwhelmingly approved Wednesday the proposed set-up that would allow betting on football, basketball, and other sporting events in time for football season.

Senators voted 31-6 on Senate Bill 247 that lays out how the betting will take place and how it will be regulated. Wagers will be able to placed on smart phones, in casinos, at kiosks in bars and restaurants that serve liquor. It takes effect on July 1.

The measure now heads to the Louisiana House for consideration.

Senators amended the legislation to allow temporary licenses while the casinos build out a section for sports wagering in order to get through the initial football season.

Voters in 55 of the state's 64 parishes endorsed a proposition in November allowing residents in those parishes to make wagers. Geofencing software will ensure that no wagers will be made in any one of the nine parishes that opted out. 

Bettors have been asking lawmakers since the statewide vote when they would be able to bet on sports. But legislators need to establish just how sports wagering would work, how much it would cost, and how it would be regulated.

“The vote on this bill was actually taken last fall when 65% of the people said we want this,” Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns, whose Lake Charles district has three casinos.

Cortez and Ward

Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, prepare for discussion about the structure of sports betting in Louisiana before the Senate Judiciary B committee on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

The 40-page SB247, sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, was extensively rewritten after months of negotiations.

Basically, the Cortez bill allows for 20 licenses to go to casinos on riverboats, at racetracks, and Harrah’s in New Orleans. The initial application fee is $250,000 and $500,000 for a five-year term. Licensees would have to apply by January 2022 and pass a suitability analysis. The casinos also would have to agree to build out a separate area to handle sports betting. Each license would be allowed to license two platforms to handle betting over cell phones. That means 40 licenses for mobile phone wagering apps.

The apps on the cell phones will have software that would indicate exactly who is placing the bet, ensuring the bettor is old enough, and is located in one of the parishes that voted to allow sports betting.

The scoop on state politics in your inbox

Get the Louisiana politics insider details once a week from us. Sign up today.

The Louisiana Lottery Commission also would have a license but will have to operate through a contracted provider. The Lottery would handle kiosks that are placed in restaurants and bars.

Sports betting would be regulated by the State Gaming Control Board.

Bets placed at the kiosks in restaurants and bars would be taxed at 10%. Those placed on phones would be taxed at 15%. The tax bill would be calculated on the net amount – money left over after winning bets have been paid – and would be charged to the licensees.

Rick Ward

Sate Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, presents the legislation that sets up the procedures and regulation for sports betting. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 247 by an overwhelming majority on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

The package also includes House Bill 697 and Senate Bill 142. The language of HB697, which received 78 votes in the House, is being vetted by the Legislative Bureau and will soon be before the full Senate for a vote. HB697 sets the fees and taxes.

The third instrument, SB142 by Republican Sen. Rick Ward, of Port Allen, would appropriate any money raised by sports betting, also is awaiting a Senate vote.

Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, asked Ward to put some of the revenues towards early childhood development. State Rep. John Stefanski, who sponsored HB697, wants some of the money to the Minimum Foundation Program, or MFP, which pays for K-12 public schools, and a program helping disabled children and adults.

Part of the issue for Ward’s SB142 is that though estimates for sports betting revenues have been as much as $50 million annually, nobody is sure just how money this form of gambling will generate.

Voting to setup sports betting in time for football season (31): President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette; Sens Bret Allain, R-Franklin; Regina Barrow, R-Baton Rouge; Louie Bernard, R-Natchitoches; Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette; Joseph Bouie, R-New Orleans; Stewart Cathey Jr., R-Monroe; Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek; Patrick Connick, R-Marrero; Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge; Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge; Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville; Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell; Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe; Ronnie Johns; R-Lake Charles; Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales; Jay Luneau, R-Alexandria; Patrick McMath, R-Covington; Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport; Fred Mills, R-Parks; Robert Mills, R-Minden; Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City; Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs; Ed Price, D-Gonzales; Mike Reese, R-DeQuincy; Gary Smith, D-Norco; Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge; Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport; Rick Ward, R Port Allen; and Bodi White, R-Central.

Voting against SB247 (6): Sens Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles; Mike Fesi, R-Houma; Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton; Jay Morris, R-West Monroe; Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans; and Glen Womack, R-Harrisonburg.

Not Voting (1): Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.