Louisiana Sports Betting Ballot Measure 2020 Voter Guide
Alika Jenner/Getty Images. Pictured: Louisiana State University cheerleaders inside Mercedes Benz Superdome.
Louisiana will be the first to ask voters to approve sports betting at the local level instead of statewide. Most parishes, especially those with one or more of the state’s nearly two dozen casinos, will likely approve wagering, but lawmakers will still need to solve critical issues such as operator access and mobile wagering in 2021.
Here’s all that Louisiana voters should know about legal sports betting on the 2020 ballot.
What is the Louisiana Sports Betting Parish Measure?
Louisiana voters in all 64 parishes will see the following on their 2020 ballots:
Shall sports wagering activities and operations be permitted in the parish of (individual parish name)?
The Louisiana constitution restricts certain forms of gambling, but allows parish-level voter referendums on specific gaming expansions if approved by a majority of both houses of the legislature and the governor. Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature overwhelmingly supported the sports betting referendum and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards approved it for the 2020 ballot.
The legislation behind the referendum did little to explain sports betting beyond placing it on the ballot and granting oversight to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, which already regulates the state’s casinos. A “yes” vote means sports betting could be “permitted” within that parish; a “no” vote means there can be no legal “sports wagering activities” within parish lines.
When Would Sports Betting Begin?
In a best-case scenario, the first legal bet will be placed sometime in the second half of 2021. A more likely scenario is 2022.
Louisiana lawmakers must pass follow-up legislation that answers how sports betting will be conducted in parishes that vote “yes.” The 2021 session isn’t set to begin until April, the latest of any state legislature meeting next year. However, that late start is a small factor in what could be a difficult legislative process.
Despite its more than 20 casinos and thousands of video poker machines, regulated gambling is still controversial in much of Louisiana, where conservative and religious groups opposed to all gaming forms still have considerable influence in the legislature. After a 2019 sports betting bill died short of legalization, lawmakers in 2020 were more amenable to allowing voters to decide if they wanted legal sports wagering, then deal with the follow up in 2021.
Many of the issues that tanked the 2019 legislation will remain in 2021.
In addition to a contingent of lawmakers opposed to any type of legal gaming, there are stark divides over which entities can offer these games. The casinos and horse tracks have found themselves opposed to the video poker terminal operators, which oversee thousands of such games spread across bars and truck stops throughout the state.
Voters in 47 of the state’s 64 parishes approved daily fantasy games via a similar process as this year’s sports betting ballot measure, but lawmakers failed to pass the needed regulatory legislation until late in 2020. Video poker supporters pushed to amend the DFS legislation so the machines could offer daily fantasy games, which helped tank both the DFS tax bill and sports betting legalization efforts.
The casinos and horse tracks are among the most high-profile support of legal sports betting, but would undoubtedly oppose any effort to expand wagering to the terminals. It remains to be seen if video-poker supports will push for single-game sports betting, but it could delay or derail legislative efforts next year.
Another possible sticking point is online access.
Mobile wagering makes up the vast majority of total handle in mature markets such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Leading online sportsbook operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel, which supported the 2018 DFS measure and have each contributed $250,000 to the 2020 sports betting question, would undoubtedly push for full mobile wagering in each parish that approves the ballot question.
However, this could dissuade the legislature’s gambling skeptics, who could tolerate retail sportsbooks at licensed casinos in approved parishes, but couldn’t stomach online sports betting.
Even if these concerns don’t play out and sports betting sees a smoother legislative process in 2021 than in other sessions, the slow nature of any legislation, and the likely six or more months it would take for regulators to approve any new sports betting operators, means late 2021 would probably be the earliest launch for the first legal Louisiana sportsbook.
Will the Louisiana Sports Betting Question Pass?
It’s safe to say that some form of sports betting will be legal in Louisiana.
Roughly two-thirds of parishes supported daily fantasy legalization in 2018, including the 10-most populated, and all seem a safe bet voters there will support legal wagering in 2020. Furthermore, it seems improbable that residents in parishes with casinos, including Orleans (New Orleans), Bossier (Bossier City), Calcasieu (Lake Charles), Caddo (Shreveport) and East Baton Rouge (Baton Rouge), would oppose legalized sports betting.
Leading up to the election, supporters have also broadcast pro sports betting ads during football games and online. Along with the $500,000 in combined contributions from DraftKings and FanDuel, sports betting operators Boyd Gaming, Penn National and Caesars have given an additional $625,000 in total donations to Louisiana Wins, a sports-betting support political-action committee. Opposition groups have reported $0.
The parish-by-parish vote all but guarantees sports betting will be legal somewhere in Louisiana after the Nov. 3 ballot results are announced. The bigger issue is how (or even if) online sports betting will be legal in parishes that vote “yes,” and when those residents will be able to place a legal bet.