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Casinos in Shreveport and Bossier City have struggled in recent years with competition from WinStar Casino in Oklahoma and the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring.
But there could be help on the way.
Voters across Louisiana on Nov. 3 will vote on whether to allow sports betting in their respective parishes.
For the local casinos, sports betting could be a lifeline.
“We wanted the citizens to vote on this,” State Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, said at the Northwest Louisiana Legislative Summit last month. “I do hope that Caddo and Bossier will pass this. It’s important for our riverboats and Louisiana Downs to compete with Arkansas and Oklahoma.”
State Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, introduced Senate Bill 130 on Feb. 25.
The Senate passed the bill on May 13 (29-8) and the House of Representatives did the same four days later (71-23, with nine representatives absent.) Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the bill on June 12, sending the measure to each parish ballot.
A “yes” vote would be in favor of allowing sports betting, subject to legislative regulation and taxation, within each parish in which this question is approved.
A “no” vote would be against allowing sports betting within each parish in which this question is approved, thereby continuing to prohibit sports betting within that parish.
Sports betting could be a boost
Sports betting isn’t limited to just casinos and race tracks. It also includes daily fantasy sports such as DraftKings and FanDuel.
In 2018, Louisiana voters in 47 parishes authorized fantasy sports contests. The Legislature passed rules and tax rates for fantasy sports earlier this year. The Louisiana Gaming Board is developing the final rules.
But it is the casinos in Shreveport and Bossier City that could use the boost.
Their numbers weren’t great before COVID-19 became a global pandemic. In fact, the industry has struggled in recent years.
Sasha Gallegos, a L.A Dodgers fan, places bets on a game at Isleta Casino . Photographed on Tuesday August 13, 2019. (Photo: ADOLPHE PIERRE-LOUIS)
“Competition with Indian casinos in Oklahoma has significantly eaten into Shreveport-Bossier’s gaming sector over the past few years,” LSU economist Loren Scott wrote in his annual Louisiana economic outlook.
Shreveport-Bossier City’s gaming industry lost 1,378 jobs between 2014-19 according to data from the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. And that was before DiamondJacks casino closed.
Gross revenues at the six Shreveport-Bossier casinos and its racetrack have fallen by $67.2 million between 2014-19, a decline of 9.1%.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, casinos were closed for parts of March and May and all of April.
The industry has shown signs of revival since reopening.
Even though the casinos were under a 50% occupancy rule in July, their revenues had recovered by 78%.
“Statewide casino revenues have recovered 88 percent despite the fact that they were under a 50 percent occupancy rule,” Scott said. “This has been an unusual thing to see out there.”
However, a month later, only one of the market’s five casinos showed a month over month increase in adjusted gross revenue. Eldorado had a 4.3% increase. The biggest month over month decrease came at Horseshoe, where it was down 21%.
Under SB 130, all of the casinos will be eligible to apply for sports betting permits.
Mississippi legalized sports betting at licensed casinos that accept wagers in the state in 2018. In September, that state brought in $6.6 million in tax revenue on a $52 million handle.
Arkansas also has legalized sports betting and took its first legal sports bets last year. That state’s total handle for September was more than $3.9 million for its three legal sports books.
Clearly there is money to be made if voters approve sports betting. Texas does not have legal sports betting and sports books here could make Shreveport-Bossier City a gambling destination again.
Louisiana Wins, a group pushing for approval of the measure, estimates the state is losing $330 million of revenue each year to Mississippi and Arkansas in sports betting. The group says that money could be used for funding education and infrastructure.
However, not everyone is ready to gamble on sports betting.
The Louisiana Family Forum has already expressed opposition to the measure.
“The effort to lure Louisiana into sports betting is a well-funded campaign by out of state operators who specialize in online gambling,” Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills told The Advocate.
“Louisiana Family Forum opposes sports betting because it, like other forms of wagering, drains personal wealth from Louisiana citizens promising payouts which are realistically — undeliverable. This results in life-altering losses for the gambler family. Louisiana taxpayers are left to pick up the broken pieces of bad bets and the lives they destroy.
“Of particular concern with sports wagering is the radical change it brings to sports marketing and the consumption of sports entertainment as well as the onramp it engineers to 24/7 online gambling by minors and gambling addicts alike!”
And late last year, Centenary College economics professor David Hoaas was skeptical about sports betting being a savior for the casinos.
“I think sports betting would give us a minor tick (up), but not a lasting increase,” Hoaas said.
Early voting ended on Tuesday. On Nov. 3, the voters will have their final say on the matter.
“I have not seen the voters of Bossier vote down an opportunity to support our gaming industry,” State Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughon, said at the Northwest Louisiana Legislative Summit.
Whether that support continues next week remains to be seen. If the measure passes, Peacock said the Legislature will begin the process of determining taxing for the sports books.
If the measure fails, Louisiana will remain without sports books in casinos.
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