Louisiana Sports Betting Bill Goes For The Gusto: Statewide Mobile, Including Bars, Restaurants

The post Louisiana Sports Betting Bill Goes For The Gusto: Statewide Mobile, Including Bars, Restaurants appeared first on SportsHandle.

Longtime Louisiana gaming official Ronnie Jones said Wednesday that given that state’s stops and starts in the past few years, he recommended that sports betting backers “go conservative, and then expand more later.”

But as he told an online audience during EGR’s “A Spotlight on Southern States” seminar, a bill introduced this week indicates a preference instead “to go in with both feet.”

State Senate President Patrick Page Cortes’s bill would allow for mobile sports betting — a rarity in the region — in nearly all of Louisiana’s parishes, with a provision even for sports betting operator licenses for some bars and restaurants in the state, to be issued through the state lottery.

Cortes’ position as president, Jones said, means that bills he introduces “have tremendous weight” in the legislature. But he said given likely pushback from a variety of sources, “I just don’t know what the finished product is going to look like.”

Session, sports betting talk start Monday

Lawmakers will start the discussion on April 12, when the Louisiana State Legislature is set to convene at noon local time. The session will run through June 10. After voters legalized sports betting via referendum in 56 of 64 parishes in November 2020, the legislature is tasked with developing a framework.

One possible hurdle: Louisiana truck stops can offer video poker, but that group appears to be left out of this bill. Jones said the truck stop operators have expressed concerns about the cost of licensing fees, and having to deal with federal regulations involving cash transactions.

Jones added that Louisiana treats video poker differently than casinos – including the fact that “they can contribute to political campaigns – and that gives them some political muscle.”

Who gets a license if this becomes an LA law?

Staci Stern, FanDuel’s government affairs director, said that including newcomers such as restaurants or bars “opens up a can of worms that maybe a lot of people aren’t expecting.”

Since all parishes did not approve sports betting, Cortes’ bill would set up “geofencing” around each approving parish’s territory while blocking legal mobile betting access in the other parishes.

The state’s 15 riverboat casinos, the Harrah’s land-based casino in New Orleans, and the four racetracks with slot machines each would be permitted to apply for a sports betting license. If any of those businesses decline the option, then other qualified companies could apply via a competitive bidding process – with the total number of licenses capped at 20.

The board shall permit retail establishments for the hosting of sports wagering mechanisms. An eligible retail establishment shall include an establishment that has a Class A-General retail permit or a Class A-Restaurant permit… for the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption and other establishments as determined by the board.

The bill specifically excludes non-profits, convenience stores, quick stops, food marts, service stations, grocery stores, barber shops, laundromats, discount liquor or cigarette establishments, movie theaters, or beauty shops.

Jones, who was chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board until he was removed last summer, said negotiations “are going to be interesting to watch” with “lots of backroom deal cutting. I’m not going to miss this at all.”

It’s different down South

Jones, a lifelong Louisianan whose law enforcement career began in 1974 as a state trooper, said that Louisiana and Mississippi “were anomalies in the South in the early 1990s” — with riverboat casinos in those two states before many others even approved lotteries.

“This is the Bible Belt, and vestiges of that influence on the legislative process are still in place today,” Jones added.

Stern said that her extensive travels to visit lawmakers has revealed that “we really are 50 states, each with its own identity. Mississippi is different from Alabama is different from Louisiana is different from Florida.

“When meeting with legislators, they may not be sports fans; they may not gamble; they may have some sort of a moral apprehension when you bring up gambling,” Stern said. “How you have a discussion there is different than one you would have in New York or in Massachusetts. It’s about respecting the southern way of life, and explaining why it’s important [to legalize and regulate gambling].

“Faith-based groups do carry a lot of weight among legislators. We have to talk about things like responsible gambling and consumer protections.”

Becca Giden, a senior analyst at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, said that when estimating time frames for legal gambling expansion in states, she builds in “an extra year or two” for southern states to reflect both cultural reluctance among many lawmakers as well as state laws that often require a Constitutional amendment to add any new gambling.

Inside the world of U.S. gaming lobbying

Jones and Stern said it was “frustrating” to see legislators refuse to allow for a public vote, with Jones adding that he believes most residents even in the South would approve of it.

“The fact is that people are betting on sports every day [illegally] in Texas, in Georgia, in Florida,” Jones said, noting the overwhelming backing for sports betting that resulted from Louisiana’s referendum.

As for lobbying, Jones suggested it can get ruthless. He pointed to Louisiana a few years ago, and a proposal to move a casino license location to the southern part of the state. Jones said “one of the most powerful faith-based groups” in Louisiana was able to scuttle the plan after a campaign claiming that the bill was designed to expand gambling in the state.

Jones also said that lobbying in statehouses sometimes is a matter of gaming interests in a neighboring state wanting to continue to keep raking in revenue from the state not yet in the game.

Even in southern states that offer sports betting, like Mississippi and Arkansas, there is no mobile version — only brick-and-mortar.

“There is a tremendous distrust of anything you can bet online” in the region, Jones said. “Fears of underage gambling, fraud, problem gambling.”

Giden said that over time, southern lawmakers will see that “there is no evidence that mobile [betting] cannibalizes retail. It may seem like everyone will stay home and never go to casinos again — but that’s not what happens.”

Sunshine, Lone Star states of affairs

Florida sports betting efforts have been in the news of late, and moderator Melissa Blau — the founder of iGaming Capital – noted that “the elephant in the room is Disney,” given their lobbying power in the Tallahassee statehouse and longstanding opposition to commercial casinos and other gambling expansion in the state.

Jones said that “the Seminole tribe will be driving this discussion… the Seminoles are driving this car.” Stern said that “it’s hard to imagine a competitive mobile market in Florida, the way things stand now.”

In Texas, Jones said that “there is a huge [gaming] industry push to get something done,” given that the legislature there will be dormant in 2022 — as it is every other year.

“But Texas is one of those states where the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor are incredibly strong politically, so I would be very surprised if anything gets done unless you have both on board — and I just don’t see that happening. Texas will get there — but not this year and not next year.”

The backing of Texas’s major pro sports teams — especially the iconic Dallas Cowboys of the NFL — for sports betting might seem like a big boost to the effort. But Stern explained that “there is pushback from some conservative legislators who don’t want to help the teams or help the leagues. It’s easier for them to say, ‘This isn’t the year’ — and address it in the next session.”

Will NY’s action spur other states?

Could Tuesday’s announcement of a mobile sports betting agreement in New York — the largest state in the U.S. to do so — lure southern states into following suit?

“No,” Giden said.

Stern elaborated that in her experience, “we would point to New Jersey” as a pioneering gambling expansion success story — “and it was almost as you were insulting them. ‘Why are you telling me about some other state and tell me how great their market is?’

“You have to be careful about using other states in discussions,” she added. “If you go to [southern lawmakers] and say, ‘Look at New York, maybe follow this? — they would very kindly tell you to leave their office.”

Giden said the one exception is a bordering state, because in that case it becomes clear that not passing gambling expansion means that the state is losing the discretionary income of their residents to that other state that is more receptive to gambling.

New York’s intent to mirror New Hampshire and impose about a 50% tax rate is not likely to inspire other states to do so, Giden added.

Final takeaways from the panel

Stern said that “one argument in Texas should be Mattress Mack” and the fact that the showy bedding entrepreneur has to make his multi-million dollar bets for various major sporting events in other states, most often Colorado.

As for iGaming gambling legalization, Jones said that the South as usual “will be cautious,” letting states in the northeast and midwest take the lead and then reviewing the results.

Giden said that Alabama might surprise many in the gaming industry by finally making some steps forward this year, including instituting a lottery.

She also said that the experience of tribes in Michigan with mobile sports betting and progress on that front in Connecticut may “create a path” for tribes to follow in other states. Louisiana has five tribal casinos spread throughout the state.

The post Louisiana Sports Betting Bill Goes For The Gusto: Statewide Mobile, Including Bars, Restaurants appeared first on SportsHandle.

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