BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal to legalize sports betting in Louisiana edged forward in the Legislature, winning the backing Tuesday of a committee packed with several anti-gambling lawmakers who unsuccessfully sought to derail the measure.
The Senate-supported legalization bill won passage from the House criminal justice committee with an 11-6 vote. Still, more hurdles remain, including a possible review from the conservative House budget committee before the measure can reach the House floor.
Republican Sen. Danny Martiny's bill would allow wagering on professional, college, Olympic and international sports events at Louisiana's 16 casinos and four racetracks.
The Kenner senator said Louisiana residents already are betting on sports through bookies, online offshore sites and neighboring casinos in Mississippi. He said Louisiana should regulate and tax the activity, with the dollars largely earmarked for early childhood education.
"This is an industry that currently operates underground. It's here," Martiny said. "We have all of the ills of (sports) gaming, but none of the benefits, none of the financial benefits."
Opponents said gambling damages families and causes addictive behavior.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Denham Springs Republican, said gambling preys on poor people, and she said the state should find a better way to pay for early learning programs, rather than "off the backs of other people who are losing money."
"What we legalize, we legitimize," Hodges said.
Committee Chairman Sherman Mack, an Albany Republican, expressed concern that student athletes could be tempted to manipulate the outcome of games to make money off sports betting.
"Regardless of what we do here today, those who want to gamble are going to gamble," said Rep. Barbara Norton, a Shreveport Democrat.
Critics of the bill backed an amendment to also allow sports betting at truck stops and the hundreds of places licensed to have video poker — a poison pill aimed at killing the measure. But Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat, successfully asked the House committee to strip the video poker provision, after Martiny said that threatened passage.
After that language was removed, the committee advanced the bill. The Senate earlier voted 24-15 for the proposal, which also is supported by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Sports betting could generate between $30 million and $60 million annually for Louisiana, Martiny estimated. His bill would steer a small slice of the net proceeds, to a program aimed at combating compulsive gambling, and the rest of the taxes would go to early childhood education programs. Separate legislation advancing in the House would set up a 13 percent tax rate on net proceeds gambling facilities receive from sports betting.
Before any betting could begin, voters in the parishes with casinos and racetracks would have to decide on a parish-by-parish basis in the Oct. 12 election whether to allow the new form of gambling at the facilities. And the state gambling board would have to enact regulations.
Betting on high school sports events wouldn't be allowed.
Senate Bill 153: www.legis.la.gov
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