With the clock literally ticking down on the last day of Louisiana’s legislative session, a veteran lawmaker who previously championed legalized sports betting stalled for time to effectively kill a last-ditch bill.
State senator Danny Martiny (R-10) – a 26-year veteran of the Louisiana Senate who has served as Majority Leader since 2012 – has sponsored a pair of sports betting bills over the last two years. His SB-153 – which would put the issue of regulated sports betting in the Bayou State to voters via ballot referendum – was successfully passed by the Senate back in April.
But despite recent polling from Louisiana State University (LSU) which found 59 percent of respondents favor legal wagering on pro sports, the more conservative-leaning House of Representatives took the legislation to conference committee, where a series of “poison pill” amendments were added.
Legislative Rivalry Prompts Sparring and Stalling
In his role as chairman of House Appropriations Committee, state representative Cameron Henry (R-82) used poison pills to connect SB-153 with the installation of sportsbook kiosks in approximately 2,800 video poker parlors. Another contentious amendment attached to Martiny’s bill mandated an integrity fee paid to leagues by sportsbook operators.
These efforts ultimately led SB-153 to die on the proverbial vine as it stalled in Henry’s committee. Martiny then requested a full floor vote by the House, one which crucially required Henry’s presence in the chamber.
As he later told WWL Radio in late May, Martiny believes Henry deliberately avoided participating in House business to prevent a floor vote from taking place:
“He has conveniently absented himself from the chamber the last couple of days.
And (he) has indicated that he does not intend to be in the chamber again until sometime Monday, which would put the bill in jeopardy, even if we were to get it out.”
This legislative maneuvering put an end to Martiny’s hopes of passing SB-153 this year, but in a Hail Mary of sorts, he worked with a district colleague to attach his original sports betting legislation to a pair of daily fantasy sports (DFS) bills. The issue of regulating DFS wagering was put to voters last November when 47 of 64 parishes in the state – comprising 90 percent of Louisiana’s population – voted in favor of allowing companies like DraftKings and FanDuel to operate locally.
House Bill 459 was related to regulatory red tape for a DFS rollout, while House Bill 600 addressed taxation rates and revenue distribution. Martiny added “hitchhiker” amendments to both bills, but a similar scene played out in conference committee with Henry removing sports betting language altogether.
Martiny – who will leave office due to term limits next year – then exacted a level of revenge by essentially filibustering during the last few moments of the legislative session on June 6th. Refusing to relinquish the floor and allow voting on HB-600, Martiny let the clock strike 6:00 p.m. local time to conclude the session without sports betting or DFS on the docket.
In an interview with WVUE-TV Fox 8 News conducted afterward, Martiny explained his personal motivations for killing two DFS bills with one stone:
“Once they bottled my bill up and they got to the point of the conference committee process I went over to the those people and I said, ‘I tell you what I will do, we won’t give the authority to the casinos or the land-based [casinos] or the racetrack, all I want you to do is recognize sports betting as an allowable form of gaming and let us have a referendum.’
And the response from the House conferees was we’re not putting anything in the bill that will in any way help sports betting.”
DFS Advocates Outraged While Martiny Defends Actions
Because both sports betting and DFS involve changes to the tax code, the state constitution limits legislation on the issues to odd-numbers years only.
Thus, the brinksmanship between Henry and Martiny ensures that bettors in Louisiana will have to wait until 2021 at the earliest for legal sports wagering in any form to arrive.
In a statement released after the session ended, Ryan Berni of the Fairness for Fantasy Sports Louisiana (FFSL) lobby group lambasted legislators for standing in the people’s way:
“Today is a sad day for all Louisianians. Voters should be outraged as it has been made abundantly clear that the legislature is broken.
Senators allowed personal politics to prevail, rather than the desires of the people they claim to represent.”
Asked if he intended to take DFS down with him to protest meddling in his sports betting bill, Martiny flatly denied the insinuation when speaking to local media outlets:
“I don’t know, I spoke for a minute and 20 seconds, no.
Here’s the point, we were running up against the clock, but I knew what was going to happen.
I was going to be the villain anyway, so I said I’m going to go up there and explain, never once did I ever ask anybody to vote against the bill.”