Louisiana sports betting framework coming together: Here's what we know, what to expect

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
A smartphone with a sports betting app on its screen resting on a desktop between a notepad and a potted plant.
Sportsbooks remain popular in Las Vegas as they also come to life around the country.

When voters in 55 of Louisiana's 64 parishes approved legalizing sports betting in their communities last fall, most thought they'd be able to place wagers on games and matches right away.

"I've had so many people come up to me and say, 'We passed this last year; why can't we make a bet right now?'" said Republican state Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley Friday in an interview with USA Today Network.

But last year's local option elections were only the first steps in paving the way for sports betting.

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Louisiana's Legislature must still pass bills to regulate and tax the gaming expansion and appropriate the tax revenue derived from it before people can place their bets.

A trio of lawmakers — Stefanski, Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette and Republican Sen. Rick Ward of Port Allen — are shepherding a trio of bills through the ongoing Legislative Session to complete the puzzle.

If they pass, components will include Las Vegas style sports books at the state's casinos and racetracks, mobile Internet betting through smartphones and other devices and retail wagering kiosks at restaurants and bars with Class A liquor licenses.

Stefanski's bill to tax wagers and provide for the retail kiosks through the Louisiana Lottery had the highest bar because new taxes and changes to the lottery need two-thirds approval for passes. It sailed through the House last week on a 78-24 vote — eight votes to spare.

"We wanted to run mine first because it had the highest hurdle," said Stefanski, whose House Bill 697 moves to the Senate for its first committee hearing Monday.

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Cortez's bill, which advanced out of a Senate committee Tuesday and will get a full Senate hearing this week, would regulate full on-site sports books, or betting areas, and the mobile applications.

His Senate Bill 247 proposes making 20 such licenses available with existing casinos and racetracks having first refusal option. Each of those licenses will include two "skins," which will be used to contract with moible application providers.

Finally, Ward's Senate Bill 142, which is expected to get a full Senate hearing this week, would appropriate the tax revenue generated from sports betting. Lawmakers are still vying for preferred dedications like early childhood education, so Ward's bill remains a work in progress.

Sports betting will still be prohibited in Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, Jackson, LaSalle, Sabine, Union, West Carroll and Winn, the parishes where voters rejected the gaming expansion.

Technology called geofencing will prevent residents in those parishes from accessing mobile sports betting applications.

Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles said the geofencing is precise. He traveled to New Jersey to see it work.

"It's fascinating to see how well it works," Johns said. "A lot of people try to fool the system and it's virtually impossible to do. It will cut you off from one side of the road to the other."

If all of the bills pass the Legislature and are signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, sports betting will be on the way, but still not quite here.

Cortez's bill contains an emergency clause to expedite implementation, but placing wagers will still be months away.

"It's possible by late fall, but realistically, because of what it will take to buildout the infrastructure on all of the components, we think it will be early 2022," Stefanski said.

Just in time for the Super Bowl.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.