Competition is again behind the push in Louisiana this year. Mississippi legalized fantasy sports apps in 2017, and sportsbooks opened in 2018 at its Gulf Coast casinos. Arkansas also permits fantasy slot games sports apps and will allow sports betting later this year. Last fall, 47 Louisiana parishes voted for legal mobile fantasy sports games, but legislators still need to create rules and a tax structure for the games before the public can place bets. There’s also a significant push for lawmakers to approve sports slot games betting at 20 casinos and racetracks in the state.
Questions remain about how much tax revenue sports betting, in particular, will produce for Louisiana. Tax revenue from sports wagering has fallen short in four of the six states – including Mississippi – that approved sports betting last year, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Talbot’s measure, House Bill 459, would require every fantasy sports operator to pay a $10,000 annual fee, plus 10% of their net revenue from bets placed in Louisiana. Anyone 18 or older could place bets as long as they aren’t athletes, referees or someone involved in the outcome of a wagered contests. Fantasy sports operators could not run games based on high school or youth sports, according to the proposal.
Alton Ashy, a lobbyist for the video poker industry, objects to aspects of Talbot’s bill. Gamblers must be at least 21 to play video poker in Louisiana, and its revenue is taxed at a much higher rate: 26.5% at bars and restaurants and 32.5% at truck stops. Ashy said video poker operators should be treated more favorably than fantasy sports slot games because the businesses with machines are locally owned and pay local property taxes.
They don’t have a single employee. They don’t have an office,” Ashy said of fantasy sports operators. “Not only do they not own anything, they don’t even rent anything in Louisiana.”
Talbot said the tax figures in his bill could change as it advances. He is also interested in splitting revenue from fantasy sports betting between state and local governments, although his proposal doesn’t specify that.
Talbot said he’s been approached by early childhood education advocates and other groups to create a specific dedication for fantasy sports gambling revenue, but he is not inclined to do so.
His legislation also has no caps on the number of fantasy sports betting licenses that can be issued. By comparison, Louisiana has a strict cap on casinos. The bill would also put fantasy sports licensing applications and audits out of the public record.
Other states that have legal fantasy sports charge somewhere between a zero and 15.5 percent tax rate on the companies, with an additional annual fee up to $75,000. In Mississippi, there’s an eight percent slot games tax rate applied to fantasy sports, plus a $5,000 registration fee that’s good for three years.
Conservative Christians are concerned about Talbot’s bill, which they characterize as an unprecedented expansion of gambling to everyone with a smartphone. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum said he’s worried that will make it easier for minors to access and plans to pressure lawmakers not to support it during session.
Legal sports betting in Louisiana is far less of a sure thing than online fantasy games. If legislators approve sportsbooks, they still need backing from voters. The matter would go up for parish-by-parish slot games consideration. If it clears those hurdles, sports betting could be in place by January 2020, at the earliest, said Ronnie Jones, head of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board.
Senate Bill 153 would allow sports wagering on professional and collegiate sports at Louisiana’s four horse racetracks with slot machines, its 15 riverboat casinos and at Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans. Betting slot games on high school, video game and electronic sports events would not be allowed. Sports betting would be limited to gamblers 21 and older.
Martiny tried to get sports betting legalized last year, ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed such wagering beyond Nevada. The bill died in committee, but dynamics in the Legislature have shifted since then.Mississippi and Arkansas have since approved sports slot games betting in their casinos, though Arkansas isn’t expected to take sports bets until late 2019. Martiny and the gambling industry say Louisiana’s casinos and racetracks will lose business to neighboring states if sports betting isn’t legalized here.