New push to legalize sports betting, use revenue to fund early childhood education expansion

Courtesy: MGN Online
Courtesy: MGN Online(KNOE)
Published: Feb. 19, 2019 at 11:28 PM CST
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There’s a push at the state capitol to link sports betting revenue to early childhood education expansion, according to Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.

Martiny sponsored legislation in 2018 that would have allowed people inside Louisiana casinos to bet on sporting events, but the bill failed because some lawmakers feared it would make it easier for people to slip into gambling addiction. The bill was also defeated before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of sports betting and opened the door for states to legalize it.

Martiny said the state has since missed out on dramatically-improved gaming revenue.

“Not only are we not making money off of sports betting, but the Mississippi and Native American casinos are trying to siphon off some of our gamblers to use their places,” he said in an interview with WAFB on Tuesday. “Everyone else was racing to compete and we were sitting on the sidelines.”

Martiny said he will bring the bill up again during the next legislative session, which begins Apr. 8. But this time, it could carry an amendment that would dedicate the additional tax revenue legalizing sports betting would create to early childhood education.

“Whatever it takes to pass it, I’m going to have to do that,” Martiny said, adding that early childhood education is a “worthy cause.”

Statutory dedications are a controversial funding mechanism because some lawmakers say they do not allow the state to pool its money and prioritize its budget. Martiny’s legislation would not cover the entire cost of expansion. But attaching the two unrelated issues could bolster support for sports betting, as childhood education is an uncontroversial and widely-supported cause.

The state’s Early Childhood Care and Education Commission recommended expanding pre-school for needy children, prioritizing kids from birth to age 3. It would cost about $86 million each year, and Martiny’s gaming legislation would likely net somewhere between $40 to $60 million.

“It’s happening right now,” Martiny said. “There are people that are betting on sports in Louisiana, whether they’re betting with a bookie or they’re betting offshore. They’re betting.”

About 90 percent of child brain development happens before age 5, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. The commission’s executive summary said the state cannot meet its early education needs at current funding levels.

“Louisiana must find a way to provide the affordable, high-quality early childhood care and education that working families and their children need and deserve," LDoE Press Secretary Sydni Dunn said. "We will closely watch the upcoming legislative session, hopeful state leaders will act on this urgent issue.”

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