Following the results of a ballot initiative on Nov. 6, 2018, most parts of Louisiana are ready to allow their residents to enter daily fantasy sports contests online. However, rules and regulations pertaining to this form of gaming must still be drafted and legislated, which isn't expected to occur until the 2019 legislative session begins on April 8, 2019.
As Louisianans headed to the voting booths to select their representatives in Congress and a handful of state and local office holders, they also were presented with a list of ballot items to decide upon. One of them pertained to fantasy sports.
Unlike the other six amendments on the ballot, voting for the DFS proposition was conducted on a parish-by-parish basis. That is, each of Louisiana's 64 parishes – analogous to counties in other states – voted yea or nay separately, and each local result determined whether or not that parish's residents would be allowed to participate in daily fantasy sports.
The text that was presented on the ballot was as follows:
PROPOSITION TO AUTHORIZE FANTASY SPORTS CONTESTS
Shall fantasy sports contests be permitted in the parish of PARISH NAME?
YES ( )
NO ( )
Citizens of 47 parishes OKed the measure while it was defeated in the other 17. However, these numbers tell only part of the tale because the parishes that approved of DFS contain 92% of Louisiana's population. They include the state's largest cities, which are:
Subject to further action on the part of the Louisiana legislature, residents of the 47 approving parishes will be able to join online daily fantasy sports contests. People in the other 17 parishes will be restricted, using geo-location technology, from participating.
Unlike most states, which lack statutes specifically dealing with internet gaming, Louisiana has proactively banned gambling over the internet with a 1997 law. The relevant sections of the LA legal code are contained in the Louisiana Revised Statutes 14:90.3 where we find:
“B. Gambling by computer is the intentional conducting, or directly assisting in the conducting as a business of any game, contest, lottery, or contrivance whereby a person risks the loss of anything of value in order to realize a profit when accessing the Internet, World Wide Web, or any part thereof by way of any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, or any server.
D. Whoever commits the crime of gambling by computer shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both.”
We see that lawmakers specifically wished to bar online gambling, and they employed a rather broad definition of gambling, which encompasses “any game, contest, lottery, or contrivance whereby a person risks the loss of anything of value in order to realize a profit.” While this law hasn't been tested in court, most observers interpret it as definitely making DFS illegal.
This line of reasoning is bolstered by a 1991 advisory opinion by former Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Thomas A. Warner III who found that commercial, telephone-based fantasy sports competitions for real money were a violation of state law. This opinion was based on existing statutes even before gambling by computer was criminalized in 1997, so it's extremely likely that online daily fantasy sports is contrary to the law too.
It's important to note, though, that only “conducting, or directly assisting in the conducting as a business” of the prohibited games is illegal. Ordinary players face no negative legal action for enjoying DFS. Indeed, the same is true of online casino gaming, poker and betting on sports. It's only those supplying the service that are at any risk of prosecution.
Nevertheless, the ability of Louisianans to partake in DFS has been severely limited because leading fantasy sites, like FanDuel and DraftKings, fully respected the state's laws and refused to accept its residents as customers.
Given the negative legal climate historically existing in Louisiana against daily fantasy sports, the legislature had to pass a bill specifically allowing it. To this end, HB484 was drafted and prefiled by State Representative Kirk Talbot (R) in March 2018. It passed the Louisiana House by a vote of 67 - 23 on April 17 and the Senate 21 - 15 on May 9. On May 11, Governor John Edwards (D) signed it into law.
Speaking of his reasons for trying to legalize DFS, Representative Talbot highlighted the skill involved in the pastime and the fact that most customers play just for entertainment:
“It's fun to play, and I think people should have the right to determine if they want to play that or not…You have to pick your players. You have to look at field conditions. You have to look at who's having injuries on teams and injuries on players. So it's really far more of a game of skill than pure gambling.”
This bill gave the Louisiana Gaming Control Board oversight over the DFS industry. It also declared that “participation in any fantasy sports contest…shall not be considered gambling…”
The Louisiana Constitution presents a formidable barrier to any new gambling expansion though. In Article XII §6 (C)(1)(a), we read:
Therefore, the bill referred the matter to the polls. Now that voters in 47 parishes have given DFS the go-ahead, the relevant bodies can proceed to exercise their duties under Section 7 of HB484:
Because of the overwhelming support the measure received at the voting booth, it's probable that the Gaming Control Board and legislators will waste no time implementing the necessary laws and rules to make legal Louisiana DFS a reality some time in 2019.
In the interval of time between the passage of HB484 and the November election, proponents and adversaries of daily fantasy sports engaged in a battle for the minds of the electorate.
As the two largest DFS operators, DraftKings and FanDuel were understandably on the side of those who wished to see the activity legalized. The two organizations banded together and each contributed $500,000 to a political action committee called “Fairness for Fantasy Sports in Louisiana.” The money was spent on TV and radio spots encouraging electors to vote “yea” on fantasy sports.
Opposition came largely from religious groups, like the Louisiana Family Forum and the Louisiana Baptist Convention. They contended that there was enough gambling in the Pelican State already and were worried about the issues of problem gaming and underage gambling.
Gene Mills, President of the Louisiana Family Forum, commented:
“You really are proliferating gambling across the land in an aggressive, virtual fashion. I don't think we've really thought this through. Our particular concern with the fantasy sports betting is that it comes into every home in any nook and cranny of any given city.”
Traditional single-game sports betting is perhaps the closest analog to daily fantasy sports in the world of gambling. In the wake of the Murphy v. NCAA Supreme Court decision in May, quite a few states authorized this form of wagering, which is now no longer banned by the federal government. Among them are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. Additionally, Delaware had been “grandfathered in” under the old rules with limited parlay betting, but after the case was resolved, it took the opportunity to expand its offerings and now hosts a complete sportsbook menu. New Mexico hasn't yet legislated on this matter, but a sportsbook has nevertheless opened up within NM borders due to the vagaries of tribal gaming law.
An attempt was made to capitalize on this trend in Louisiana with State Senator Daniel Martiny's (R) bill, SB266, which would have automatically granted sports betting licenses to existing casino license holders assuming the proposal met with the approval of the voters. He introduced the bill in March 2018, but it died in committee in May.
Following the defeat of his bill, Senator Martiny remarked:
“Anybody who thinks that killing my bill is going to stop sports betting, you can go right now on your phone or on your computer and place a bet. We’re just not going to get any of the money from it.”
There are reasons to believe that next year will be more auspicious for betting on sports however. The fact that DFS was approved and by such a large majority of parishes shows that Louisianans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of wagers on the outcomes of athletic performance.
Neighboring Mississippi had the foresight to legalize sports wagering in 2017, and the legislation became active once the Supreme Court rendered its verdict. The first sportsbooks in the state opened in August 2018, and there have been many reports of residents of South Louisiana driving across the border to place their bets.
Arkansas, to the north, legalized sports betting via ballot measure on the same day Louisiana approved DFS through a similar mechanism. Two Arkansas racetracks were automatically granted licenses to offer sports wagering, and up to two more properties may be licensed in the future.
Louisiana's treasury is thus feeling the pinch, sandwiched between two adjacent states that are poised to derive a continuous stream of revenue from denizens of the Bayou State who are itching to bet. This may spur Louisiana lawmakers to get their act together and pass the necessary bills in 2019 or risk seeing potential tax revenue leave the state. Senator Martiny has stated that he plans to reintroduce his failed bill in 2019, and he expects it to pass next time around.
Perhaps a strong signal about Louisiana's near-term prospects for sports betting can be gleaned from what the smart money is doing. After all, gambling and sporting insiders probably have a better take on this subject than the average guy on the street. Furthermore, big companies that want to see sportsbooks in the state can actually do something to spur on the progress of sports betting bills by lobbying political leaders in Baton Rouge.
In light of the above, the deal between The Stars Group and Eldorado Resorts, announced in late November, is certainly a positive development on this front. This arrangement gives The Stars Group, parent company of PokerStars, the right to “own, operate and brand real-money online sports betting, poker and casino offerings” in 11 states through Eldorado's properties. The contract isn't exclusive to Louisiana, but Eldorado's three LA casinos – Belle of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, El Dorado in Shreveport, and Isle of Capri in Lake Charles – are definitely included in the coverage area.
Perhaps more directly relevant to the Louisiana scene is Harrah's New Orleans being named the casino partner of both the NFL's New Orleans Saints and the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans. Although the Dec. 19 announcement explaining the deals talked mostly about Harrah's being a “post-game destination” and crafting “customized experiences,” the prospect of legalized sports betting down the road was undoubtedly a factor behind the partnerships.
There are thus several large businesses with an interest in seeing Louisiana sports betting become legal as soon as possible.
As State Senator Daniel Martiny aptly noted, you can place sports wagers right now on your computer or mobile device. This service is provided by offshore gaming sites that run global operations and don't give a damn about prohibitive local restrictions because they are largely beyond the reach of the Louisiana authorities. You too have nothing to fear from Louisiana law because all the relevant statutes criminalize engaging in gambling as a business, not as an regular customer.
To get started, consult our list of the best online sportsbooks USA bettors can access. If poker is more your speed, then we've created a page specifically dedicated to the Louisiana online poker scene. Or you can browse through our guide to the top American-friendly online poker rooms.