Former Louisiana State Senator Ronnie Johns co-authored the bill that created a legal framework for sports betting in the Bayou State. In July, John resigned the District 27 seat he held for a decade to become chairman of the gaming control board. For him, it’s particularly satisfying to preside over the birth of what is, by most accounts, a strong sports betting market.
Though first-month revenue reports aren’t yet in, the buzz out there is good.
“In talking to the operators, they say they’re having great success,” Johns told GGB News. “The Lake Charles market, which draws mainly from Texas, has had some great success in just a relatively short period of time. They had a really big first weekend, no problems. I’ve been proud of the fact we’ve had no glitches. Everyone is thrilled.”
“Business has been phenomenal,” agreed Cheryl Duhon, director of marketing at L’Auberge Casino, in an interview with WBRZ News. “It far exceeded what we first expected.” The Baton Rouge casino was among the first with sports wagering, which Duhon said has attracted a whole new clientele. “We are so excited to see so many new faces in our sportsbook,” she said, “but also on our table games and slot machines.”
Eventually, all 20 of Louisiana’s casinos and racetracks are expected to offer sports bets. Margaritaville Resort Casino in Bossier City became the eighth recently, with several others pending.
Did Johns expect sports betting to take off in such a big way?
“Actually, I did not,” he said. “I had no idea how much interest there was out there until we got into the last few weeks of the licensing process—when we started to get tremendous volumes and calls asking, ‘When are you going to get started?’ A lot of people thought we could just flip a switch.”
When he co-wrote the legislation, “We know it was something we wanted to do and needed to do for the gaming market. We had Mississippi, which had been doing it for two years. Now we’re a little bit ahead of them.”
The gaming control board shares responsibility for the industry with the Attorney General’s Gaming Division and Louisiana State Police. Together, “We took a position of first-come, first-served,” said Johns. “We issued our first license when the game was coming between the (New Orleans) Saints and the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers” on Halloween, said Johns.
The teams met on Saints turf, at Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, where the home team clobbered Brady and the Bucs, 37-26. It was a victory for the sportsbooks too, Johns said.
“We deliberately rolled out the license at Harrah’s New Orleans and Boomtown Casino Hotel that weekend, because we wanted the market to take advantage of that game. It proved an enormous day particularly for Harrah’s, which did over 2,000 transactions the first day.”
Mobile Up Next
The No. 1 question now is, when will the bets go mobile? Caesars, Penn National, DraftKings and FanDuel are among the potential contenders in Louisiana.
“The goal is January,” Johns said. “I hate to give a particular date, but (we’re) working overtime to get it into compliance and up and running.”
First, officials must conduct background checks on every vendor. “With sports betting, the properties were already licensed here in Louisiana, so we didn’t have to dig as deep into the woods to get them up and licensed and running.
“Mobile is a little trickier, but my commitment is to do it the right way. I don’t want to rush it, to where we have problems. We’re going to dot our i’s and cross our t’s and make sure everything is in proper order. I think it’s going to be tremendous.”
A mechanism created by the legislature and adopted by referendum in 2020 gave the state’s parishes the right to have mobile sport betting. Of 64 parishes, “55 OK’d sports betting, which we thought was phenomenal,” said Johns. “The others will be geo-fenced out. That’s something we’re working on as we speak. I anticipate a tremendous push from the mobile side when we get it up and running,” possibly in time for the Super Bowl next February.
“It would be an incredible feat if we can do that, to roll it out in time for the bowl games and national NCAA. Some big events are coming.”
Johns attributes any success of the sector to the enthusiasm of Louisiana sports fans. “Historically, we’ve been a sports-minded state. Everyone loves the LSU Tigers and the Saints. One thing that’s really interested me in talking to potential bettors: I’m seeing people who would never put a nickel in the slot, but they’ll make a sports bet.”
Slicing the Pie
Of taxes generated by sports betting, 25 percent is earmarked for early childhood education, and 10 percent will go to local governments. “We’ve got a small amount to go to our responsible gaming program,” Johns said. The remainder will go into the state’s general fund.
In creating an infrastructure for the new industry, the state took its cues from jurisdictions that preceded it, Johns added. “We had the privilege of looking at what a number of other states did as their best practices. We reached out to other counterparts. We went through the process with a fine-toothed comb, and got input from the industry. I think we came up with a good set of rules. Some may need to be tweaked from time to time. Fortunately our legislature meets every year, so if we find minor problems, we might need some clarification.”
In a recent interview with WWL-TV, General Manager Samir Moward of Harrah’s Casino said sports betting isn’t just good news for fans but for local economies. “There is definitely a trickle-down effect, in addition to the direct revenue from the sports bets,” he said.
John looks forward to a successful industry that is also compliant and responsible. “We have a well-run and well-known responsible gaming program. We’re going to up the ante.
“We’re all new to the ball game, and I’m sure we’ll get more input as time goes by, get ideas as we do for the industry to be successful. But it’s got to be compliant. We hold their feet to fire on our statutes and compliance issues. We want to do it the right way. That was my commitment, and when you do that, nobody has a problem.”