BATON ROUGE — Just as casinos feature sumptuous buffets to lure patrons, the Louisiana Legislature is offering a veritable smorgasbord of gaming expansion and de-regulation this session.
Although “gambling” has always lurked in the shadows of Louisiana’s past, because of the propensity for illegal activity and potential for corruption it was frowned upon in public policy. That changed in the 1990s. Now, favorable forces want to “modernize” the industry and may have a friend on the 4th floor of the Capitol.
It should come as no surprise that Louisiana Baptists and Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) will oppose expansion as well as de-regulation of Louisiana’s gambling statutes.
“What some consider ‘modernization’ of industry regs, should not become a forfeiture of essential fiduciary responsibilities legislators hold as gambling’s primary regulator. If ‘modernization’ involves removing the original safeguards put into place to avoid corruption, prevent proliferation, and protect residents from predatory practices, then it should be opposed,” said Gene Mills, President of Louisiana Family Forum.
Mills continued, “When faced with the choice between protecting Louisiana families or de-regulating gambling, it is the responsibility of lawmakers to first fulfill their duty to Louisiana families.”
Every branch of the industry has worked the off-season to encourage legislators, regulators, and local governments to support new “opportunities.” These include:
- Harrah’s in New Orleans would add hotel rooms and restaurants, and a 35-year extension of their contract with the state.
- Riverboats evolve from water-based organisms to land-dwelling amphibious casinos, with more machines in more places.
- A riverboat in Bossier would “sail” to rural Tangipahoa to a tiny creek which simply overflows in high water season.
- Racetracks seek new games to be played on new machines.
- Truck stops want to de-regulate fuel sales and restaurant hours.
- Video poker morphs into other types of games to be played on VP devices.
- Brick and mortar limitations expand to the internet, allowing bets on real and ‘fantasized’ sports activities.
Traditional patterns in the legislature require that when one segment of the gaming industry expands, the others must also receive concessions. It is no surprise that government, at all levels, has become reliant on gambling revenue. This dependence comes at a high price to Louisiana’s most vulnerable.
A 2016 study conducted by the Louisiana State Department of Health and Hospitals and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette found an increase in both problem and pathological gambling. Another DHH report supports those findings.
Using figures from the DHH/ULL study, costs in Louisiana would add up to a total of $245 million per year in adverse gambling economic impact. This does not consider the social costs to families, employers, and taxpayers.
The study concluded that more public policy emphasis should be placed on social and economic consequences of gambling, as well as the public health consequences of gambling and addiction upon the families of those affected. Framing gambling and addiction as a public health threat may lead to the development of new treatment and prevention strategies.
As the Legislature considers large-scale expansion of gambling, LFF holds that lawmakers should seek family-friendly alternatives for raising revenue rather than balancing the state budget on the shoulders of those impacted by gambling and addiction.
Finally, any “modernization” should protect families first, not the economic interests of an already lucrative enterprise.