Louisiana Sports Betting Bills Advance to Senate Floor

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee passed two legalization bills on Tuesday
  • SB130 proposes a public vote on the issue in the November ballot
  • A seven-week suspension of the legislative session over COVID-19 has caused a backlog
  • Legal sports betting could launch by the 2021 NFL season if a referendum bill is passed by June 1
US and Louisiana flags
Two bills looking to legalize sports betting in Louisiana have now progressed to the Senate floor. [Shutterstock.com]

Update: The Louisiana House voted in favor of SB130 on May 27 after the state Senate passed it on May 13. The sports betting referendum bill will allow state residents to vote on the legalization of the activity on the 2020 November ballot.

Making progress towards legalization

Two bills seeking to legalize sports betting in Louisiana successfully passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The committee heard three different sports betting bills. Among these, SB130 was sponsored by Senator Cameron Henry, who believes it will be put to a vote in the Senate next week. 

If approved, Henry’s bill would put the issue of legalizing sports betting to voters on the November ballot. This would have each individual parish decide on whether they would like to introduce legal sports betting. The currently proposed ballot question is:

Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of _____?”

The two other bills would allow the 15 riverboat casinos in the state, the four racetracks, and the casino in New Orleans to offer sports betting. There is no provision for statewide mobile sports betting as part of these bills.

COVID-19 pandemic causing disruption

The legislative session in Louisiana has been cut shorter than usual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The session began on March 9, with the legislature shut down just six days later for a seven-week period. It returned on Monday, but the planned session adjournment date is set for June 1. 

With limited time to eke out the details of potential license fees and taxes for sports betting, committee chairpersons have been instructed to only look at bills that are necessary to approve in 2020. Henry believes the sports betting bill he is sponsoring falls into that category. 

He deems it important to put the issue to voters as politicians don’t want to unnecessarily vote in favor of introducing more taxes. A public vote on the issue could give legislators the reassurance that they won’t “get grief from their constituents if they support this tax.”

The push for legal sports betting

People are hopeful that Louisiana could have legal sports betting in time for the 2021 NFL season. This would require the legislature to pass a referendum bill before June 1, 2020. Each parish will then vote on the issue in the November elections. 

Louisiana could have legal sports betting in time for the 2021 NFL season

If successful, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and legislators would proceed to agree on the language for a sports betting bill. The resulting legislation, including license fees and tax rates, would then require a two-thirds supermajority followed by the governor’s approval.