Louisiana Senate committee approved two measures Tuesday that would give voters the right to legalize betting on college and professional sports. The Senate Judiciary B Committee also approved a bill that would eliminate the tax that casinos pay on freebies they give to gamblers.
“If we will remove this tax, I believe it will increase revenue,” said state Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, the sponsor of the measure, Senate Bill 332, which had been amended from its original purpose, as reported by The Advocate. However, he did not yet have a fiscal note prepared by the legislative staff that would forecast whether the measure would generate more state taxes.
State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, said the gambling industry needs help because the state has shut down its operations, to protect customers and employees from being infected by the coronavirus. The move has cost the state at least $100 million so far in gambling taxes, Johns said.
“They are our business partner now,” the committee’s chairman, state Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, said in a comment that illustrated why each of the pro-gambling bills sailed through his committee.
Only the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative faith-based group, registered any opposition, but its representative chose not to speak to the committee.
Johns and state Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, sponsored identical sports betting measures (Senate Bill 378 and Senate Bill 130) approved by the committee that would let voters decide on Nov. 3 whether to allow the wagering in their parish.
The Senate last year approved a bill to legalize sports betting, but it failed to win passage in the House during a final-day standoff with supporters of a separate measure that would establish the taxes and regulations for yet another form of gambling, fantasy sports. Voters had legalized fantasy sports in 47 parishes in 2018, but people in Louisiana could not begin to play until the Legislature approved an additional step establishing the taxes and rules. That effort died in tandem with the push for sports betting last year. “Everybody involved last year seems to be on the same page [now],” said Henry.
Peacock lamented to the committee that he could not try to legalize fantasy sports during the current legislative session because it would take a two-thirds vote to approve the taxes, and he said that threshold was too high.
The Senate Judiciary B Committee did not take up yet another gambling bill, Senate Bill 257. It would allow video poker truck stops to win an exemption from having to sell a certain amount of fuel every month if a storm had shut it down and required a rebuild. SB257’s sponsor, state Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, said he plans to offer the bill at the committee’s next meeting.