By Hunter Lovell, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — It appears Louisiana sports enthusiasts will have to wait at least two more years for fantasy sports betting after an unexpected turn of events in the final minutes of the 2019 legislative session.
The Senate failed to pass a tax bill for fantasy sports betting after Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, ran out the clock at the podium out of anger that his bid to also allow betting on real sports had failed. The session had to end by 6 p.m. Thursday.
Martiny voiced his disagreement with House members who stripped the bill’s amendments, which included real sports betting. His main opponents were Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, and Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.
“I don’t think this is the way you do business,” Martiny said. “I don’t like the way that I was treated. I would feel the same way if any of my colleagues were treated this way.”
Martiny’s push for real sports betting was always seen as a longshot given opposition from religious and conservative family groups from the north and central parts of Louisiana.
But by filibustering the fantasy sports bill, he ended up denying the state the revenue it would have gained over the next two years from taxes on fantasy sports betting. His actions also ran counter to what the voters in 47 of the 64 parishes wanted in voting last fall to approve fantasy sports betting.
“Very, very disappointing,” said Ryan Berni, spokesman for Fairness for Fantasy Sports Louisiana, a political action committee financed by the two largest daily fantasy sports providers. “I’m especially sad for the voters of the state who voted for this. The Legislature did not uphold the will of the voters.”
Just before this final bit of drama, the Senate had approved the regulatory framework for fantasy sports betting after Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, decided the bill did not need a two-thirds majority vote for passage.
Fantasy sports games allow sports fans to construct virtual teams of real athletes from professional sports on mobile phones or computer desktops. These teams then compete in head-to-head matchups, and fans can win cash rewards based off actual player performance.
The fantasy sports legislation bills, sponsored by Talbot, will have to wait until the 2021 legislative session because the Legislature can only take up tax measures in odd-numbered years.
“They’re both linked to each other,” Talbot told the Associated Press. “We will not have fantasy sports for two years.”
An ongoing feud between Martiny and Henry stalled fantasy sports betting from smooth passage after Martiny added a hitchhiker amendment to legalize wagering on real sports such as football, basketball and baseball.
Martiny sought to tack on the measure after Henry, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, bottled up Martiny’s original bill to legalize real sports betting in his committee.
Henry avoided taking up Martiny’s proposal by not showing up to committee meetings at key moments, and the appropriations committee effectively stonewalled the proposal by adding a number of unsustainable amendments that caused backers of real sports betting to withdraw their support.
Earlier this week, Martiny, who is term-limited in the Senate, said in an interview that he was angry with Henry for going out of his way to kill his proposal.
“This is the last bill that I will ever handle in the Legislature,” Martiny said. “I’m not going to go down without a fight.”
The Senate approved a 15.5-percent tax on fantasy sports betting along with Martiny’s last-ditch amendment Tuesday, but Henry and Talbot, the bill’s author, vehemently opposed adding real sports betting.