Voters in 47 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes approved a measure to legalize online fantasy sports games with cash prizes, but residents of those parishes will have to wait a while before they can play legally.
“We should be online and ready to go for the fall football season next year,” said State Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge.
Playing fantasy sports already is legal in Louisiana if no money changes hands. But Louisiana residents who use sites like DraftKings and FanDuel that charge fees and award cash prizes could be subject to a fine or even jail time.
Talbot sponsored the legislation that created Tuesday’s fantasy sports ballot item. He plans to file bills for next year’s legislative session that would establish the necessary regulations and decide how much of a cut of the action the state should receive.
“Some states charge [the fantasy companies] a flat fee,” Talbot said. “Some do a percentage of their gross. Some do a combination of the two. We’re going to see which one is more advantageous for Louisiana.”
Though Talbot didn’t offer an estimate of how much revenue state government might raise, fantasy sports is not expected to produce a huge tax windfall for the state. He describes it as a fun activity that adults can choose to participate in or not.
But some observers hope, or fear, that fantasy sports opens the door to legalizing other types of sports betting, as states like Mississippi have already done. The expansion of gambling creates social costs that are borne by every Louisiana taxpayer, whether they place bets or not, said Will Hall, who directs the office of public policy for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Hall cites a study by Baylor University that found the average cost of just one additional pathological gambler is almost $9,400 per year. Those costs can include crime and incarceration, lost job productivity, and increased use of social services such as welfare programs. Almost 3 percent of Louisiana residents are pathological gamblers, according to a study by the Cecil J. Picard Center for Childhood Development & Lifelong Learning at UL-Lafayette.
Hall is particularly worried about how expanding legalized gambling will impact children.
“They’re already being exposed to gambling in ways that are unhealthy,” he said. “Now you’re going to add this to the mix.”
Talbot said DraftKings and FanDuel do a good job of preventing children from using their sites. The companies also use a technology called “geofencing” that Talbot said effectively prevents residents of places where the practice isn’t legal from participating.
“No one has shown that geofencing is effective,” Hall countered.
Fantasy sports firms spent a reported $1 million to support the legislation and ballot measure. Opponents don’t have that kind of money, Hall said, but they plan to be at the Capitol when the regulations are debated.
Opponents may have failed to stop legalization, he said, but they hope to at least make sure children are protected.
“Everybody in that legislature has a son, a daughter, a grandson, a granddaughter, a niece or a nephew who are potentially threatened by allowing fantasy sports betting in this state,” Hall said.