Regulation

Chief Louisiana Regulator: Driving Toward Legalizing Sports Betting In 2020

The conversation about legal sports betting in Louisiana has hemmed and hawed, and for the time being, neighboring Mississippi continues to draw residents seeking to make legal sports wagers. During Louisiana’s 2019 legislative session, 11th-hour amendments were made to SB 153, the bill that would have paved the way for sports betting in the state, undermining its support and momentum until it was eventually voted down in the House in June.

But according to Ronnie Jones, chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, the “lack of a collaborative approach” by stakeholders in trying to get the bill to the floor provided legislators with a ready-made excuse to oppose it. In a recent interview with US Bets ahead of his appearance at ICE North America next May, he said that the industry shared the blame for “dropping the ball.” And there was plenty of blame to go around, he added.

“They didn’t do what I think is absolutely essential in the discussion of proposed legislation: offer a united front,” Jones explained. “As the bill neared its eventual demise, the 20 casinos in the state diverged and even hedged on offering their support.”

According to the chairman, while some operators wanted to wait for the perfect bill in a future session, others wanted to push through what was on the table or were even noticeably absent from any participation in the process.

He added: “More than one legislator opined, ‘Why should I vote on a gaming bill when the industry who most benefit cannot agree on whether it is acceptable?'”

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The last-ditch amendments to SB 153, which mandated the use of “official league data” and the expansion of video poker terminals, are blamed for ringing the bill’s death knell. Put simply, the tinkering complicated the deliberations of lawmakers at a crucial time in the legislation’s progression. Speculation is rife as to some of the motivation behind their introduction, but Jones said that a lack of communication between parties involved was partly to blame.

Eyes on 2020 (and beyond)

To avoid such late disagreements in the future, Jones hopes that any legislators intending to offer a sports betting bill collaborate with stakeholders as well as colleagues to gain holistic feedback on the proposals.
Next year’s spring session beginning on March 9 is likely to signal a fresh attempt to legalize sports betting, with bills pushing for a parish referendum, a constitutional requirement for new forms of gaming, expected to be offered up.

Although any new proposal can establish a regulatory structure and provide for the manner and location of sports betting operations, they cannot cover any taxation or fee issues, adding further delays to legalization. Bills addressing taxes in the state are only considered every other year — an opportunity that was missed last summer.

According to Jones, given that it is “highly unlikely” a special session including sports betting in the call will be held next year, Louisiana will not have the opportunity to authorize and implement sports betting until 2021 at the earliest.

If and when that day comes, one positive for supporters of legalization is the re-election of Governor John Bel Edwards, who has previously indicated endorsement of sports betting, believing that citizens would be better protected in a well-regulated market.

Jones said that “thousands of dollars are bet by Louisiana residents on all manner of sports day in and day out,” often through illegal bookies or using unregulated online channels.

Benefits, both direct and indirect

While there is substantial potential state tax revenue at stake, for Jones, the primary focus has always been on the indirect benefits to licensed locations and the communities where they are located, rather than direct profit.

“The addition of sports betting to Louisiana’s gaming landscape would, as originally proposed, drive business to the 20 casino locations where we believe visitors would buy food and drink, spend the night in a room, visit the spa and retail offerings, and perhaps even play a table game or two,” he added. “We view sports betting almost as just another amenity but one with a potential multiplier effect.”

Despite figures from across the country showing that mobile/online is where consumers make a vast majority of wagers when there are available platforms, Jones recommends ushering in legal wagering at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks first, before opening the market online.

“I do not believe that legislators are yet comfortable with mobile applications,” Jones said. “I, on the other hand, have absolute confidence in mobile applications like those in New Jersey, but legislators simply aren’t there yet. And I will always be respectful of the opinion of those policy makers.”

Neighboring Mississippi has taken a similar tack — betting is permitted on sportsbook/casino premises only — and has been shown that brick-and-mortar betting is nice to have, but the real demand and dollars will come via mobile sports betting. Revenues from sports betting in a fully open market in New Jersey continue to ascend to new heights with each coming month and are on track to top $500 million in 2019. Although appetite for sports betting in Louisiana is high, the state is unlikely to compete at quite that level any time soon.

Next May, however, Louisiana’s culture capital New Orleans will be hosting ICE North America, a major industry event that is set to bring thousands of sports betting and gambling professionals to the state from all over the U.S and beyond.

Between now and then, on December 28 at The Peach Bowl in Atlanta, the No. 1-ranked, 13-0 LSU Tigers will face No. 4 Oklahoma as a heavy 13-point favorite for the right to face the winner of No. 3 Clemson and No. 2 Ohio State for the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Jones is among the many who wish that the Tiger faithful wishing to put their money where their hearts are could keep those dollars in the state. Not yet.

 

Ronnie Jones will appear as a speaker at the upcoming ICE North America on May 13-14 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now in its second year, ICE North America combines sports betting, casino, tribal, and affiliate gaming industries, and seeks to uncover the next generation of technology and market trends. Covering the full breadth of US gaming, ICE North America 2020 will include new content around hospitality, eSports ,and property development.

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