BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers Wednesday promised a renewed push to legalize sports betting, saying gamblers are finding ways to wager elsewhere and the state is losing out on taxing the activity.
Sen. Danny Martiny, a Kenner Republican, told members of a Senate judiciary committee that he'll again introduce a sports betting proposal in the 2019 legislative session.
Lawmakers spurned similar legislation this year. But Martiny and other senators who support the gambling expansion hope a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing sports betting, combined with sports wagering now going on in Mississippi, could change minds.
Six states allow sports betting, and others are considering it. Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, told senators that Louisiana residents are betting on sports today, not just in neighboring Mississippi, but through offshore gambling sites.
"They are happy to take your money in an uncontrolled and unregulated environment," Jones said.
Sen. Gary Smith, a Norco Democrat, replied: "And we collect no taxes on it."
The American Gaming Association projected sports betting in Louisiana could generate revenue ranging from $245 million to $288 million a year, according to data provided to senators by the Louisiana State Police. If Louisiana used the same tax rate charged on its riverboat casinos, that could bring in between $52 million and $62 million for state coffers.
Martiny suggested the largesse for the state may be far smaller, but he said Louisiana's existing tax collections could fall if large numbers of gamblers head to Mississippi for the sports books.
"The question is how much are we going to lose if we don't do it?" he asked.
Dan Real, general manager for Harrah's New Orleans, urged support for legalizing sports betting at Louisiana's casinos, calling it "a very important piece for us to add here" to compete.
No one in Wednesday's hearing spoke against the idea.
Still, legalized sports betting faces high hurdles to passage in the Louisiana Legislature, with opposition from conservative groups and pastors who object to anything that increases gambling options. And even among supporters of the wagering, lawmakers diverge on how and where sports betting should be offered in Louisiana.
If they wanted to permit sports betting, lawmakers would have to determine whether they want to limit its locations, such as only in the state's existing casinos or in broader gambling sites, such as mobile sports betting. They'd also have to decide how to tax it.
Jones said he believes voters in parishes that would have the sports betting sites would have to decide if they want the gambling there through a referendum process, similar to how voters determined on a parish-by-parish vote if video poker or a riverboat casino was allowed.
A good gauge of residents' interest in sports betting, Jones said, will be the Nov. 6 election, when voters will decide in each parish whether to allow residents to play for cash prizes in fantasy sports games through online sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.
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