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Ballot item: The Louisiana Fantasy Sports Contests Act

Although not a constitutional amendment, this item will appear on all ballots statewide on November 6. 

A vote for would

permit online fantasy sports betting contests in the voter’s parish 

A vote against would 

not allow online fantasy sports betting contests in the voter’s parish

Current Situation 

Fantasy sports are popular across the nation including Louisiana. This activity includes games like fantasy football, where contestants create teams by “drafting” players to fill out different positions on their roster. A contestant’s roster is comprised of players from different teams across the league. That might mean a quarterback from the New Orleans Saints and a running back from the Atlanta Falcons. Each player then scores points for their fantasy team during the week or over the course of a season based on player statistics (for example, yards gained, passes completed, etc.). Contestants often pool money for prizes. This is but one of many varieties of fantasy sports. Generally the activity focuses on player performance rather than the actual outcomes of football or other sports games.

Fantasy sports games are legal in Louisiana if no wagering is involved. Several websites such as ESPN and Yahoo allow people to sign up for fantasy sports for no charge and without any related prizes for winning. Certain other online fantasy sports sites like DraftKings or FanDuel charge entry fees and give out cash prizes. People in Louisiana are not allowed to use those sites and others like them to compete in fantasy sports where winners receive prizes. Currently, such activities are expressly prohibited by law in Louisiana and would be a crime punishable by a fine up to $500 and imprisonment for up to six months. 

Legal and political disputes surround the terminology of the various forms of fantasy sports. For example, fantasy sports companies prefer that their games be considered “contests” rather than “gambling,” which can have different legal implications. Also, while “gambling” technically remains illegal in Louisiana, many forms of “gaming” – including casinos, video poker, lotteries and racetracks -- do not. Nationally, sports betting for many years was illegal except for a few states such as Nevada. In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal ban on sports betting violated the rights of states and thus opened sports betting for those states wishing to legalize the activity. 

Proposed Change 

Under this act, Internet and mobile device fantasy sports contests would be permitted in any parish that votes for it. However even in those parishes it would not necessarily happen immediately. Such contests would continue to be illegal until state laws and regulations are adopted. These laws and regulations would include how the fantasy sports contests would be taxed. Gambling winnings already count as income for personal income tax purposes, but it is possible if not likely that additional taxes and fees could be created.  Regulation would fall to the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, which is already responsible, along with State Police, for other similar activities such as video poker and casinos. 

This vote does not address whether casinos or other locations in Louisiana will be able to book bets on the outcome of actual sports games. After the Supreme Court ruling in May, all states are allowed to move in that direction with whatever state statutory and constitutional changes are needed to do so. But this particular law does not address that style of wagering, which is popular in Las Vegas. 

Would a yes vote on this ballot create a legal environment allowing a group of people in Louisiana to engage strictly among themselves in fantasy leagues with money for prizes? Would the office fantasy league be legal? The law is not distinct on this question, but Louisianans have been playing such games for years without prosecutions taking place. 

Argument For

People already bet on fantasy football and similar games. This vote would just legalize it and allow the state and local government to regulate and tax it. Although the games probably would not generate a lot of government revenue, any amount would help the state budget. This change would help fantasy sports participants because currently they do not have legal recourse in Louisiana if they believe they are treated unfairly by a contest. Except for truly serious problems such as sponsorship of harmful criminal activity, government should not tell citizens what they can and cannot do with their money.

Argument Against

This is an expansion of gambling in Louisiana. Proponents may call it a sports fantasy contest, but this activity is in fact sports betting. That means an expansion of all the ills that come with “gaming,” which is just the legal fiction developed in Louisiana to allow gambling. According to a recent analysis by Wallethub, Louisiana is the 5th most gambling addictive state. This problem harms our youth. A report by the University of Louisiana - Lafayette Picard Center stated that over 40% of school age children from 6th to 12th grade had participated in some form of gambling. Government should not encourage citizens to gamble and then force the taxpayers to pay for the financial and family problems it causes. The Fantasy Sports Contests Act not only authorizes participation by desk and notebook computers but also by any “mobile device” in any location in a parish voting to authorize such gaming. Minors will find ways around technology aimed at blocking them.  We already have a problem and we should not vote to make it worse.

Legal Citation: Act 322 (House Bill 484 by Rep. Talbot) of the 2018 Regular Session to amend and reenact R.S. 27:15(B)(1) and to enact R.S. 14:90(D) and 90.3(J) and Chapter 6 of Title 27 of the La Revised Statutes.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) is an independent voice, offering solutions to public issues in Louisiana through accurate, objective research and focusing public attention on those solutions. PAR is a private, nonprofit research organization founded in 1950 and supported by membership contributions, foundation and corporate grants and special events. 

For more information, media interviews or public presentation requests regarding this constitutional amendment guide, please contact PAR President Robert Travis Scott at RobertScott@parlouisiana.org.