State lawmakers are betting that they can successfully revive efforts to legalize sports wagering in Louisiana, as neighboring Mississippi reaps potentially millions from Louisiana's inaction on the issue earlier this year.
"If we don't address it, the world will be way out ahead of Louisiana and we're going to be lagging behind," Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, said during a hearing at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
JACKSON, Miss. — Overall casino revenue rose sharply in Mississippi in August with the start of sports betting in the state.
Sen. Danny Martiny, a Metairie Republican who was among the most outspoken supporters of an unsuccessful push earlier this year, has vowed to again file legislation to create a path to legalized sports wagering during the next legislative session, which begins April 8 and must end by June 6.
"I'm going to have a bill," he said. "If we pass (it), we're going to be able to keep up with Mississippi."
Mississippi casinos have fielded more than $5.5 million in bets on sporting events through September, generating about $650,000 in state revenue in the first two months, figures from the state gaming commission show.
Mississippi in August became one of the first states to allow casino patrons to place bets on football, basketball and other sporting events, following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Jeff Traylor, an audit manager for the Louisiana State Police who presented a report to lawmakers at Wednesday's hearing, said revenue projections can be difficult to calculate.
"Everything is so new," he said.
But the American Gaming Association has estimated that revenue from legal sports betting in Louisiana would be between $245 million and $288 million. At the state's current taxing rate, that would translate to $52.7 million to $62 million for the state's coffers.
The actual economic impact could be larger, proponents claim. Other casino revenue in Mississippi — hotel stays, restaurant and bar tabs and charges for other amenities — also has been on the rise since legalized sports wagering began, Traylor noted. It was up 7.46 percent in August compared to the year before and 8.7 percent in September compared to the previous year, according to Mississippi gaming figures.
"The operators we've talked to have stated that there is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of new traffic," said Allen Godfrey, the executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission who attended Wednesday's hearing to provide information about his state's sports-betting implementation.
Godfrey at times ribbed Louisiana legislators about the benefits that Mississippi has reaped from Louisiana residents making the trip to Mississippi casinos to bet on athletic events.
The first legal sports bets in Mississippi were placed simultaneously in Biloxi and Tunica at noon Wednesday.
Twenty-two of Mississippi's 28 casinos now offer sports betting.
"The operators we've talked to have stated that there is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of new traffic," Godfrey said.
Despite the supportive hearing, sports betting still may not be a safe bet for Louisiana lawmakers next spring.
The Legislature earlier this year rejected a similar proposal ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, citing a possible upstart cost for state collections and conservative opposition to expanding gambling. Martiny noted there has also been some concern over where sports betting would be allowed, as the industry is trending toward online betting options.
"I fully expect the pushback will be, as long as you are going into the facility to place the bet, some people will hold their nose and let it go," he said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has said he is open to legalizing sports betting but he didn't include it for consideration in special sessions earlier this year and isn't expected to call one on the topic ahead of April's regular session start.
"We think it's important we go ahead and take a deeper look at this, because we know we're gonna see it again," said Senate Judiciary B Chair Gary Smith, D-Norco.
As in the legislation previously proposed, any effort to legalize sports betting in Louisiana casinos would require a public referendum.
"Based on my experience, I think that's probably the cleanest way to do it," said Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
Louisiana voters this fall are deciding in several parishes whether to legalize fantasy sports games through sites like DraftKings and FanDuel. Jones said that could serve as a test for future gambling votes.
"I think the parish-by-parish vote on fantasy sports is going to be a window into what people want," he said.
Martiny described the effort as a push to legalize, and benefit from, something that is already happening in the state.
"I think we are fooling ourselves if we think we are in any way suppressing gaming," he said. "Like it or not, it's here."