Sports betting legalization bill clears first hurdle

Updated: Apr. 23, 2019 at 8:13 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Senate judiciary committee approved a bill Tuesday, April 23 that would allow voters to decide whether sports betting will be legalized in their parishes during the October election.

The bill, authored by Metairie Republican Danny Martiny, would restrict sports betting to casinos, racetracks, and riverboats.

“This industry is here. It’s unregulated. It’s underground," Martiny said. "If nothing else, it will stop some of the bleeding that’s going offshore to bookies, Mississippi, and Arkansas.”

Martiny filed similar legislation in 2018 that died died because of addiction concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court later essentially approved the concept, triggering its legalization in states like Mississippi.

Martiny acknowledged Tuesday the bill is an expansion of gaming, but contended that the illegal practice is already common. He says Louisiana gets all of the potential problems associated with gaming expansion, but none of the revenue benefits that might come with sports betting legalization.

“It’s here and it’s going to be here,” he said. "I’m trying to allow [Louisiana casinos] to compete on a level playing field with our neighbors who have already implemented sports betting.”

The committee voted, 3-1, to move the bill to the Senate floor for full debate. The lone nay vote belongs to Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, who police removed from a casino in Baton Rouge in March. She later revealed a gambling addiction.

“I know that nine out of ten people can do this and do it in a responsible and healthy way,” she said. "I’m one of that 10 percent.”

Peterson called for more funding to gambling addiction prevention programs, adding several times that she’s not against gambling.

Former LSU basketball star, Randy Livingston, also testified about a personal battle with gambling addiction, calling the disease a “silent killer.”

Martiny says he doesn’t have an exact estimate for how much money the bill could raise, although he has said it could raise as much as $60 million. There’s already a push to dedicate some of that revenue to early childhood education, which may make the legislation more palatable to lawmakers.

“It’s time for us to do better as a state than financing our state on the back of a vice,” First Baptist of Ponchatoula Pastor David Cranford testified. “A bill like this will cost lives.”

“All of the ills they talk about that exist? They exist whether I file this bill or I don’t file this bill," Martiny retorted.

Martiny says sports betting operations could be ready before the next Super Bowl, if the bill becomes law.

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