Louisiana Near ‘Fork in Road’ on Start of Sports Betting

The Louisiana Gaming Control Board soon will be at “a fork in the road” without a director making executive decisions to get sports betting up and running in the state, an industry lobbyist said.

New Orleans Saints helmets
New Orleans Saints helmets
New Orleans Saints helmets are lined up at a team practice facility. The NFL team is popular in Louisiana, where professional and college football teams have large fan bases. (Image: Sports Illustrated)

Staff members from the Gaming Control Board and other state agencies are working on rules to allow legal sports betting in Louisiana, according to The Advocate newspaper. The nine-member board regulates the state’s gaming industry.

The board’s executive director, Mike Noel, resigned June 9. Noel was facing possible questioning from a legislative committee about his service as a State Police commander when Black motorist Ronald Greene was killed in 2019, according to news accounts.

Without a Gaming Control Board executive director, the state will “soon get to a fork in the road, where executive decisions will have to be made,” said Wade Duty of the Casino Association of Louisiana.

I’m not pushing the panic just yet,” the trade group’s executive dictator recently told the newspaper.

State Sen. President Page Cortez (R) has said Noel’s resignation created a “hiccup.” That could delay when legal sports betting will get underway in the 55 of 64 parishes that approved it during last November’s election.

Cortez sponsored one of the key bills allowing sports betting in the state. The two-month legislative session at the Capitol in Baton Rouge ended June 10.

‘Proud to Do It’

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has signed the sports betting bills into law. The next step is for the board to set rules to regulate the industry. Once the rules are established, bettors can start using their smartphones to wager on live sports. People also will be able to lay money down at sportsbooks inside casinos and at kiosks inside bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Sen. Ronnie Johns (R) told the newspaper the governor has spoken with him about a possible appointment as the Gaming Control Board’s executive director. Johns represents Lake Charles, home to three casinos. The governor’s spokesperson has said an appointment will come “sooner, rather than later.”

“I’d be proud to do it,” Johns said.

Cortez and others had hoped regulations would be approved in time for sports betting to begin by football season this fall. Louisiana is considered a hotbed for professional and college football enthusiasts. The NFL’s Saints are based in New Orleans, but have a regional following. Several college football teams have active fan bases statewide, including Louisiana State University, which makes its home at Tiger Stadium on the campus in Baton Rouge.

Before he resigned, Noel told Cortez the process to get everything in motion probably will delay sports betting until early 2022.

Sportsbook Architects 

One step that remains is for the casinos to build sportsbooks where bettors can wager on athletic events. The building of these sportsbooks is required by law for those casinos that want a sports-betting license, the newspaper reported.

Louisiana is home to 13 riverboat casinos, one land-based casino in New Orleans, and four casinos.

Even before the regulatory board has a new executive director, casinos are bringing in sportsbooks architects to be ready when the board puts the rules in place, Duty said.

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