Louisiana legislators advance

A Louisiana legislative committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would let Louisiana voters decide if betting on sports will be allowed in their parishes.

Legalizing sports betting was one of the most contentious issues at last year’s session. Former state Sen. Danny Martiny’s bill passed the Senate but was weighed down with unfriendly amendments in the House and fell short.

But on Tuesday, a Senate judiciary committee advanced Senate Bill 130 with little discussion and no objections. Ironically, state Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, whom Martiny accused last year of treating his bill unfairly when Henry was chairman of House Appropriations, is sponsoring the new measure. Legislators also advanced an identical bill by Sen. Ronnie Johns, a Lake Charles Republican.

Gambling opponents object to any expansion of gaming in the state, arguing that even with high tax rates the costs outweigh the benefits. But sports betting proponents say Louisiana casinos, which are an important revenue source for state government, ought to be able to compete on a level playing field with those in neighboring states that already have legalized betting on sports, especially after being shut down as part of the effort to contain the new coronavirus.

Henry’s bill would not limit sports betting to certain facilities, nor does it set tax rates or define who would be allowed to place bets. It simply would let residents vote for or against legalizing sports betting in their parishes, requiring lawmakers to work out the details next year.

Lawmakers tried to follow a similar approach in legalizing fantasy sports, in which websites charge players fees and award prize money. Voters in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes legalized the practice in 2018, but they couldn’t play legally until legislators approved the tax rate and regulations, now it seems like people will be able to freely look at the FanDuel betting odds and place their bets!

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