Gaming Online and Offline in Louisiana State


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louisiana state sealFor a state that authorizes charitable gaming as a means for organizations to raise funds, has legal pari-mutuel betting, is home to both Indian-owned and commercial casinos, and allows video poker machines in various locations statewide, Louisiana has looked the other way at the mention of legalizing online gambling.

State legislators don’t seem to be interested in even mulling over the issue thus far, and at least one outspoken family group has come out with a vengeance to voice their displeasure at any mention of the possibility of online gambling in Louisiana. Following the U.S. Department of Justice’s December 2011 reversal of opinion on the Wire Act of 1961, states began examining the potential benefits of legalizing online gambling. As of yet, the Creole State is not one of them. But even states with proposals in place are treading unfamiliar waters in search of the most effective and efficient ways to regulate Internet gambling.

Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, believes that legalizing online gambling would do more harm than good in the state of Louisiana, and that it would be too difficult to regulate Internet gambling because of its magnitude. His group, as well as organizations from 12 other states such as Massachusetts, South Carolina and Wisconsin, have pressured their respective state legislatures to say no to online gambling legislation in an effort to keep the Internet from becoming “a giant online casino.”[1]

While federal law under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) “prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet,”[2] Louisiana has established their own state statute against Internet gambling. In an effort to protect its children and citizens from what it perceives as the harmful effects of online gambling, Louisiana’s code §90.3. pertaining to “Gambling by computer” specifically states that “gambling which occurs via the Internet embodies the very activity that the legislature seeks to prevent.”[3]

One of Louisiana’s most recent legislative moves came in March of 2012 when a Louisiana House Committee voted unanimously to send HB146 on to a full House of Representatives vote. The bill would prohibit existing Louisiana casinos from handing out electronic cards that permits gamblers to load money directly from their bank accounts onto the cards without getting up from their seats in the casino. Other states are already providing these cards to players, but Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association, said that this practice could quickly put Louisiana gamblers in serious financial trouble, and he wants the state legislature to curb the practice before it has the chance to become a reality. “We want to close this door before it even gets open,” Duty said.[4]

Gambling Halls And Cabarets 300 Years Ago Began Louisiana’s Long, Diverse History Of Gambling

Gambling in some form has been taking place in Louisiana since long before it even achieved statehood. Billiard halls and cabarets were built in the early 1700s, before the citizens of New Orleans even erected a church. After the completion of St. Louis Church, now St. Louis Cathedral, in 1727, clergy and government officials alike were worried because many residents were frequenting the established gambling houses rather than attending church services. This led to government ordinances that prohibited all forms of gambling during any kind of religious ceremony, but the ordinances weren’t enough.

A government-owned casino opened in New Orleans in 1753, and by 1803, when Louisiana achieved statehood, there were more casinos in New Orleans than there were in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York combined. And gambling was such a part of the New Orleans culture that it received exemption when the federal government outlawed gambling in 1812. Efforts to ban gambling prior to the Civil War proved futile, and by 1823, New Orleans was home to six legal gambling operations. Following the Civil War, gambling was legal again everywhere in New Orleans.[5]

A year after the end of the Civil War, the Louisiana legislature started the first Louisiana Lottery. After two years in operation, the Louisiana State Lottery Company was authorized, but Democrats in the legislature were not happy with the corrupt activity that seemed to follow its inception. So in 1879, a law banning all lotteries was passed. An appeal from the lottery company was enough to convince a U.S. Circuit Court judge to hold the state liable for the contract it had with the lottery company. This second chance proved most profitable for the lottery, as it earned record profits and had operations in every state in the U.S. But it still wasn’t enough, as other states’ government officials figured out they were missing out on profits of their own with their residents playing Louisiana’s lottery. This eventually led to a change in federal law that forbade the sales of lottery-related materials and the ability to use the U.S. Post Office to advertise. This modification to existing law turned out to be the demise of the Louisiana State Lottery Company, and after the election of Gov. Murphy Foster in 1892, the Louisiana legislature revoked the lottery charter within three years time.[6]

By the “Roaring Twenties,” pari-mutuel betting on races at the New Orleans Fairgrounds was the only truly legal form of gambling in Louisiana, but casinos continued to operate illegally for six decades until the 1980s, when Gov. Edwin Edwards sought to legalize gambling once again as a way to bolster the state’s revenue following the decline of the oil economy. But Edwards’ efforts fell short, and he lost his re-election bid to Charles Roemer. Roemer was staunchly opposed to gambling and lotteries, and planned to use tax reform to alleviate the state’s revenue issues. But when Louisiana residents realized that other states with lotteries were successfully covering revenue shortfalls, a 1990 referendum for a constitutional amendment to allow a state lottery passed, and by September 1991, the Louisiana Lottery Corporation was up and running. Since its rebirth in 1991, the Louisiana Lottery has sold $6 billion in tickets, players have raked in more than $3 billion, and more than $2.4 billion has gone back to the state treasury.[7]

In 1991, Gov. Roemer approved the addition of 15 riverboat casinos throughout the state as a way to keep Louisiana gamblers from spending their money in Florida or Mississippi. Video poker machines also were legalized that year, as well as legislation approving the construction of a casino in New Orleans. By 1993, three Native American tribes in Louisiana opened casinos after negotiations for compacts with the state were successful. Slot machines were installed in three racetracks by 1997, and video poker machines were allowed in various businesses, including truck stops, thanks to vague wording in the legislation. Thus, the gambling business continued to boom in Louisiana. A 1995 FBI conviction of New York and New Orleans crime families over video poker and a 2003 scandal that indirectly involved the Coushatta Tribe briefly tarnished the Louisiana gambling industry, but the state had made too much money and the industry employed too many Louisiana residents for gambling to fall out of favor.[8]

Talk Of Online Gambling Nonexistent For Now

With a history of gambling as old and diverse as that of Louisiana’s, it may be a surprise to some out-of-state gamblers and residents alike that lawmakers so far have no interest in discussing possible online gambling legislation. However, with Nevada well on the way to offering intrastate poker in a few months and other states such as Illinois and New Jersey considering the issue, Louisiana politicians may eventually partake in serious consideration of the possible revenue boost that would come with the regulation of online gambling.

Despite strong opposition from Louisiana Family Forum and state laws on the books prohibiting Internet gambling, the Bayou State can be considered “gambling-friendly” with casinos, racetracks and video poker machines available throughout the state. Legislators may choose to wait on the online gambling issue for the foreseeable future. But Louisiana’s gambling history would lead one to believe that if other states began enacting laws allowing for regulated online wagering, Louisiana will certainly not be left behind.

Sources and Citations

[1] Louisiana Family Group Wants Online Gambling Banned – WBRZ.com
[2] Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act by Wikipedia.org
[3] Louisiana State Laws On Gambling – Louisiana State Legislature
[4] State legislatures aim to make depositing for gambling more difficult
[5] [6] [8] History of Gambling in the State of Louisiana – KnowLa Encyclopedia of Louisiana
[7] About the Louisiana State Lottery