Louisiana voters asked for sports betting, and lawmakers intend to deliver it to them this year.
Rep. John Stefanski tells PlayLouisiana that legislators are working collaboratively to craft sports betting bills from the start.
“We’ve been working on it for quite a while,” Stefanski said. “We had several meetings to discuss different ideas and options. The Senate President and I talk often about all the mechanics between his bill and mine so we will be on the same page.”
Stefanski’s bill kicks off the efforts to implement Louisiana sports betting this year with a hearing Wednesday morning in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Louisiana bill starts with high mobile tax rate
In Louisiana, tax bills must originate in the House. So Stefanski’s House bill is needed to support the Senate bill.
He deliberated with Cortez before coming up with a tiered tax rate of 40% for the lottery operator, 30% online and 15% for in-person wagering.
Out of the states that run sports betting primarily through a casino industry, only Pennsylvania has a higher tax rate than 30% for mobile wagering (36%). And Pennsylvania can get away with it because of the synergy between online casinos and sports betting in the state.
“This is what the Senate President and I thought was a good starting point,” Stefanski said. “Those rates may go down as we work through the process. They may also go up, but I don’t think they would.”
Stefanski said he has been getting negative feedback on the tax rate from Louisiana’s 15 riverboat casinos, four racinos, and one land-based casino. Each facility also would pay a $1 million application fee and $500,000 for a five-year license.
He added that he may lower the tax rate as soon as Wednesday.
“Certainly the industry thinks they’re too high,” Stefanski said. “We’re listening to input. It’s not as aggressive as what Pennsylvania did, but as the structure currently sits it’s really aggressive.”
House bill also decides where sports betting revenue goes
Not only does the House determine taxes and fees, but also how those revenues are appropriated.
Under H 628, all tax revenue from the casino operators goes to the general fund.
But the sports betting revenue from the lottery goes to the Development Disability Services Subfund. It’s a cause supported by Stefanski, who has a little brother with a developmental disability.
Normally, Louisiana Lottery revenue goes to K-12 education.
Stefanski asserted that he is willing to discuss taxes, fees, and the direction of sports betting funds.
“From my perspective, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure some bill passes,” Stefanski said. “I’m flexible on tax rate and fees, but I want to make sure something passes because constituents want it and, quite frankly, I think they’re already tired of waiting for it.”
Louisiana likely to pass sports betting legislation
It’s always a good sign when a chamber’s leader puts his or her name on a bill.
In Maryland, the House Speaker responded to a similar directive from voters to introduce sports betting legislation, and it passed last week.
Last November, voters in 55 of 64 Louisiana parishes voted for sports betting, including the parishes represented by Cortez and Stefanski.
But for the Senate President to sponsor a sports betting bill really means something. Louisiana lawmakers can only sponsor five bills this year.
“Any time the Senate President puts his name on a bill, it’s very important,” Stefanski said. “This is one of his five bills.”
Stefanski and Cortez immediately agreed that their bills must include mobile sports wagering.
“One thing he and I agreed upon early on is we need mobile betting here in Louisiana,” Stefanski said. “Not only because we believe in it but because that’s what constituents want. Some Louisianans have to go pretty far to reach a racino, riverboat, or land-based casino. We’re trying to make this the best and easiest for them, and I think mobile is the way to do that.”
Lawmaker wants quick Louisiana sports betting launch
Last year, Stefanski sponsored a tax bill for fantasy sports that passed. However, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board still hasn’t licensed DFS sites to operate in the state.
That’s why Stefanski thinks it’s important for the legislature to add some regulatory deadlines into the sports betting bill.
“Let’s say we pass this bill, the first thing everyone is going to ask is if they can bet by football season,” Stefanski said. “I can’t give an answer because fantasy sports have not made me optimistic.”
To give the Board a chance at having sports betting up and running for NFL season, Stefanski prefers the legislature not wait until the end of the session to pass legislation. Louisiana’s legislative session runs to June 10.
“The more time we give them, the better,” Stefanski said. “As long as we get a consensus, let’s move this as soon as possible to give them time to get it enacted.”