Setting up the legal framework for fantasy sports had been a pretty easy ride through the Legislature.
But the last-minute attachment of language to also legalize sports betting – an amendment unwanted by the bill’s sponsor – is threatening to bring down fantasy sports during the last two days of the legislative session.
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Rep. Kirk Talbot, the River Ridge Republican who sponsored the fantasy sports legislation, on Tuesday asked his House colleagues to refuse to accept the unwanted sports betting amendment. He told The Advocate moments after the vote that his aim is to strip the language in conference committee, but that pretty much depends on who will be appointed to negotiate.
The amendment Talbot wants removed was tacked on by the Senate after the sports betting measure was sidelined in the House. The language added to his bills would authorize the state’s 20 casinos to take bets on collegiate and professional sports.
Fantasy sports games allow sports enthusiasts, using computers and smartphones, to craft teams of players from major sports, pay an entry fee and pursue cash prizes based on how those players perform in actual games. Voters in 47 of 64 parishes last year approved allowing fantasy sports games.
But before anyone can play, a pair of bills by Talbot must pass both chambers and be signed into law.
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House Bill 459 sets up the regulatory and licensing mechanisms for fantasy sports games. House Bill 600 establishes a 15.5 percent tax on the proceeds Internet companies like DraftKings and FanDuel make from hosting the games.
The Senate already has sent HB459 to the House and on Tuesday sent HB600 – but only after including tax and fee components for sports betting.
“It's going to go to conference and the goal is to get them to approve both of them,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, who has pushed to legalize sports betting this session.
“All I’m trying to do is allow us to be on an even playing field with Mississippi,” Martiny said.
More than 30 states are authorizing sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court last year cleared the way for states to do so.
Though sports betting had a rougher ride through the legislative process, the Senate voted to legalize sports betting and so did a House committee. But the House Appropriations Committee loaded the measure up with so many untenable amendments that even the casino industry withdrew its support. The committee then rejected the bill.
This session of the Louisiana Legislature will be remembered more for the carcasses left than the policies addressed.
An effort Tuesday to yank the bill from Appropriations fell short in a 41-48 vote of the full House. The idea, said state Rep. Joseph Marino III, No Party-Gretna, was to turn Senate Bill 153 from an authorization into a referendum that would ask voters statewide if they approved of sports betting. Then they’d strip the sports betting language out of the fantasy sports bills, Marino said.
Martiny said he thinks “just about every district” wants sports betting, including that of House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who helped tank the bill in committee. Martiny has taken aim at Henry for what he called “bottling up the bill with parliamentary procedure,” over the past week by refusing to go into the House chamber when Marino tried to discharge SB153 from Appropriation.
While Talbot is now voicing concern about the future of fantasy sports, Martiny still sees a chance for sports betting.
“It’s alive,” Martiny said. “I wouldn't say it's well. It's alive."
They have until Thursday at 6 p.m. to see things the same way.