By Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Majorities of Louisiana residents support legalizing gambling on professional sports and possession of a small amount of marijuana for recreational use while opposing stricter gun laws, according to an LSU survey released Thursday.
The Legislature is expected this spring to consider legalizing sports gambling. Statewide, 59 percent of survey respondents support the idea while only 35 percent oppose it.
There is virtually no difference in opinions on the issue between Republicans and Democrats. The distinctions lie among the age groups.
Over 70 percent of respondents from ages 18 through 49 support sports betting. However, support drops to 53 percent among adults age 50 to 64 and to 38 percent of adults who are 65 or older.
Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards recently told the Press Club of Baton Rouge: “There are many different ways that sports betting can be undertaken. We’re trying to figure out what works for Louisiana.”
Edwards, who is running for re-election, expressed concern that Louisiana casinos are losing money to ones in Mississippi, which already legalized sports betting. But The New York Times reported this week that casinos in Mississippi and several other states that legalized sports betting are not bringing in as much money as they had expected.
The strongest support for legalizing sports betting comes from the New Orleans area, with 68 percent of adults favoring it. Across south Louisiana, 58 percent supported the policy, while support slipped to 52 percent in north Louisiana.
The survey was conducted by the Public Policy Research Lab at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication. It was based on telephone interviews with 917 adults.
The survey also found that 55 percent of Louisianans support legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. As with sports betting, the differences are found among generations.
The strongest support comes from younger adults, with 80 percent of those from 18 through 29 supporting the change. Sixty-seven percent of respondents ages 30 through 49 and 51 percent of those
50 through 64 also expressed support.
But 69 percent of Louisianans 65 and older oppose legalizing marijuana use.
“I think that if younger people were in office, Democratic or Republican, there are certain issues, like the marijuana issue, that just make sense,” Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said in a recent interview.
A single offense for marijuana possession in most of Louisiana can send a person to jail for up to six months, and blacks are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
New Orleans decriminalized marijuana possession in 2016, shifting to civil fines instead of arrests.
The LSU survey also found that a majority of Louisiana residents remain firmly against new restrictions on guns. Fifty-seven percent of adults were against banning the sale of assault weapons, and 61 percent were against banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Fifty-nine percent of residents also want to let people carry concealed guns in more places. Louisiana now has “firearm free zones” that ban weapons in schools and businesses that sell alcohol.
The only gun restriction to receive majority support in the survey — from 69 percent of respondents–was to prevent people with mental illnesses from buying guns.