Danny Martiny 052119 (copy)

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

Leave it to state lawmakers to find new ways to make Louisiana look dumb. In fairness, the latest example came at the hands of only 14 legislators — all of them members of the House Appropriations Committee — who voted to kill a bill that would legalize sports betting.

Senate Bill 153 by state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, would have authorized sports betting, which is already wildly popular — but not legal — across Louisiana. Martiny’s bill easily cleared the Senate and one House committee, but it was redirected to the Appropriations Committee in a procedural move intended to kill the measure. Mission accomplished. Only six committee members voted to keep the bill alive.

Led by chairman Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, the committee first loaded up Martiny’s bill with unwieldy amendments, then voted to kill it. The measure could still be revived, but the clock is ticking down to final adjournment on Thursday, June 6.

Thirty-three other states have either legalized some form of sports betting or are poised to do so. Mississippi authorized it last year and has since sucked millions out of Louisiana’s economy.

I have no interest in sports betting; my concern is purely pragmatic. If nearly two-thirds of the 50 states already allow something that is common in all of them, Louisiana has to be insane not to join the crowd. Failing to do so deprives the state of needed revenue and encourages the outflow of bettor dollars to other states.

It’s not as if we are averse to gambling. Louisiana has a land-based casino in New Orleans, 15 riverboat casinos (most of which are virtually land-based), four thoroughbred race tracks (each of which has slot machines in addition to pari-mutuel wagering), and countless video poker machines at truck stops, bars and restaurants.

What’s the big objection to sports betting?

Truth is, only devout religious conservatives maintain an honest opposition to sports betting. Most of the House Appropriations Committee was just playing politics. (See below for the names of those who voted to kill the bill.)

“I want Louisiana to be able to compete with Mississippi and other states,” Martiny says. “Tennessee passed it with no brick-and-mortar requirement. It’s all online with an app. Sports betting is everywhere. This isn’t an expansion of gaming, this is a recognition and taxing of an underground economy.”

Unless something changes soon, it’s going to stay underground in Louisiana for at least another year — thanks to the 14 House Appropriations Committee members who bet against Louisiana. Here they are: State Reps. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie; Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge; Beryl Amedee, R-Houma; Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville; Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales; Bubba Chaney, R-Rayville; Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge; Julie Emerson, R-Carencro; Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville; Lance Harris, R-Alexandria; Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro; Blake Miguez, R-Erath; Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro; and Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs.

Disclosure: Businessman John Georges, who owns Gambit, is a big shot in the video poker business and wants video poker establishments to be able to offer sports betting if it’s legalized. Martiny’s bill originally did not include video poker establishments, but it was amended by the House Appropriations Committee to include them. Ultimately, that and other amendments led to the bill’s demise.