Danny Martiny 052119

State Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, prepares to present his bill to legalize sports betting to the House Criminal Justice committee on Tuesday, May, 21, 2019.

After a wild hearing, which included opponents trying to kill the bill by dramatically expanding gambling, a House committee Tuesday advanced legislation that would legalize sports betting in Louisiana.

Senate Bill 153 was approved on an 11-6 vote and now goes to the House Appropriations committee for consideration.

Metairie Republican Sen. Danny Martiny said he is pushing this legislation to allow Louisiana's casino industry to keep pace with gambling concerns in other states, particularly Mississippi.

About 40 states already have legalized sports betting or are in the process of doing so since the U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed the states to participate in what previously had been a very limited enterprise.

“This doesn’t expand gambling in Louisiana, it’s already here,” Martiny said. In addition to the easily accessed casinos in Mississippi and race tracks in Arkansas, sports betting is “an industry that currently operates underground either through bookies or off shore” apps available on most phones.

Louisiana doesn’t benefit from sports betting, yet has to carry all the problems of compulsive gambling without funding, Martiny said. In addition, allowing wagers on professional and collegiate sporting events provides an additional money-making activity for the Louisiana gambling facilities, which contribute more taxes than any other source, including oil and gas.

Not allowing sports betting would put Louisiana at a competitive disadvantage with casinos from other states, said Rep. Joseph Marino, No Party-Gretna, and cosponsor of the legislation.

Casinos would pay a 13% tax on net proceeds from any wagering on college and professional sporting events, if the legalization effort becomes law. Of that amount, 10% would go to help fund early education programs aimed at children from birth to three-years-old. Two percent of the tax proceeds would go to the parishes where the casinos are located and 1 percent, up to $750,000, would fund help for problem gamblers. If tax collections exceed that amount, and that’s not expected, any additional dollars would go to early childhood education programs.

Under SB153, bets would be allowed only at the 20 riverboat, land-based and race track casinos, not necessarily on gambling floors but on casino property where 21 year-olds can go.

The video poker industry successfully pushed onto the bill wording that would allow sports betting at the state’s 2,800 video poker locations, mostly at bars and truck stops.

Martiny said that extending sports betting to so many locations would kill the bill. And almost like an exclamation point, opponents lined up to back the massive expansion.

“I don’t see this bill going through the Legislature for 2,800 locations,” Martiny said. “I see you smiling up there Miss Hodges.”

Early in the debate Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, said gambling “destroys families. What we legalize, we legitimize.” She added that the state should find a better way of raising money for early education than taking from "people who are losing money."

Moments later, Hodges approved expanding sports betting to more than 2,800 locations across the state.

So did Criminal Justice committee Chairman Sherman Mack, R-Albany. He started off the debate by voicing concerns that local gamblers could corrupt players at small colleges. 

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, attempted to strip that video poker expansion from the bill, but the vote was postponed by a parliamentary maneuver.

Rep. Raymond Crews, the Bossier City Republican who opposed the legalization of sports betting, called for an immediate vote to kill the Martiny bill — a motion that took precedence and forced a postponement of the vote on James’ amendment. But Crews' effort to kill SB153 outright, failed. The committee then approved stripping the video poker expansion it had approved moments before.

At that point, the committee voted to advance the legalization legislation to the full House.

The Senate approved legalizing sports betting on an April 30 vote of 24-15. The measure needs to clear the Appropriations committee, then receive 53 votes to pass in the full House. It then would have to return to the Senate for their approval of House amendments. The legislative session ends June 6.

The accompanying legislation that sets up regulatory framework, establishes the 13% tax and pays administrative costs through fees already has advanced to the full House. But Marino's House Bill 587 needs 70 votes to pass before sports betting, if legalization is approved, can take place.


Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.