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State Sen. Danny Martiny

Irish bookie Paddy Power has announced plans to expand its American operations by buying the online fantasy sports betting company FanDuel, which just goes to show that state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, had a point when he berated his colleagues the other day.

He overdid it a bit, though, blaming our legislators for not being as smart as Mississippi's. That's just setting the bar too high.

This is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the 1992 law that gave Nevada a virtual monopoly of the sports betting market. Everyone could see the opinion coming, and many states were ready to take immediate advantage once it was handed down. Mississippi was among the states to pass provisional legislation, but a senate committee killed a Martiny bill that would have allowed Louisiana residents to place sporting wagers once the federal ban was lifted.

At the same time, the Legislature passed a bill that will let parishes decide whether to invite FanDuel in and allow fantasy sports betting on smart phones. Several states already do, so the market is worth billions. How Louisiana would regulate and tax its share will be decided later, but even the slipperiest of Louisiana legislators will find it difficult to keep a straight face and issue the ritual denial that this is an “expansion of gambling.”

A Legislature that approves betting on pretend sports, but draws the line at the real thing, is clearly all mixed up. The appeal is much the same, and Paddy Power, once it has FanDuel's fanbase, will be well placed to introduce fantasy gamblers to the joys of betting on actual games.

Paddy Power has an extra reason to be glad Louisiana legislators are keen to expand gambling at every opportunity, for it needs to make up for the revenues it is about to lose in the United Kingdom, where it operates hundreds of betting shops. Those shops rely heavily on what are known as “fixed-odds betting terminals,” meaning they are fixed so the house can't lose. The machines accept bets of up to 100 pounds ($135) every 20 seconds, but the government is about to reduce the maximum stake to 2 pounds. This will no doubt mean less crime, bankruptcy and family breakdown among the lower classes, but pity the poor bookmakers. They have relied on that money for many years.

In Louisiana's current legislative session, the trend is in the other direction. Riverboat casinos will be allowed to attract more customers by moving onshore, for instance, and truck stops will operate as video poker parlors without the inconvenience of selling a whole lot of fuel.

But the big money is in sports betting. According to the American Gaming Association, $150 billion is staked illegally on sports every year in this country. The association is hardly an objective source, having filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging it to overturn the Professional and Amateur and Sports Protection Act. Still, when the court did so, ruling that the sports betting ban infringed states' rights, it presented government with a huge new revenue source. If the market is worth even half what the Association claims, any state that has taken the precaution of passing laws to authorize sports betting — such as Mississippi — is in for a quick windfall.

Louisiana could use a windfall as it teeters on the famous “fiscal cliff,” but that Senate committee declined to adopt Martiny's bill, which would have allowed sports betting at the Harrah's casino in New Orleans and on what are now the state's 15 riverboats. Of course, passing such a bill would exacerbate the grave social woes that gambling addiction has brought to Louisiana, but we're going to be stuck with plenty of those woes anyway. Biloxi is only a short drive away. Most Louisiana residents could be betting on football, tennis or jai alai in not much more than an hour after leaving home.

So Mississippi gets all the tax revenues, while desperate losers become a drain on Louisiana's public purse.

Eventually, Louisiana will no doubt get in on the act and approve sports betting. Paddy Power will stand ready to help

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