Louisiana is a state with a rich history in gambling activity. Early French and Spanish settlers allegedly built “entertainment establishments” with gambling facilities before constructing churches and the Louisiana Lottery Company was the largest and most financially successful lottery in the U.S. prior to 1893, when voters opposed a constitutional amendment to renew the company´s license for a further twenty years.
Since the turn of the twentieth century the state has regulated gambling in stages. As the section on Louisiana Gambling History illustrates, there has been the gradual introduction of state-sanctioned pari-mutuel betting, a regulated lottery, riverboat and land-based casinos and video poker machines. There are now thirteen venues were you can play live poker in Louisiana.
Can Players From Louisiana Play Real Money Poker Online?
Under some interpretations of the law “Yes”. Under other interpretations of the law “No”. The problem with interpreting the law is that although Title 14 §90.3 (D) of the Louisiana Revised Statutes states
Whoever commits the crime of gambling by computer shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars, or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both. , the definition of gambling given in the Revised Statutes states (Bold text added for emphasis).:
Gambling by computer is the intentional conducting, or directly assisting in the conducting as a business of any game, contest, lottery, or contrivance whereby a person risks the loss of anything of value in order to realize a profit when accessing the Internet, World Wide Web, or any part thereof by way of any computer, computer system, computer network, computer software, or any server.
Where this leaves the legality of playing online poker in Louisiana is open to question. If you are playing online poker as a professional, it would appear you are breaking the law; but, if you play recreationally, it seems as though you are not covered by the statute. Ironically, the state expects you to declare any winnings from gambling – the penalty for failing to do so is a fine of up to $2,000 and up to two years imprisonment with hard labor .
Louisiana Gambling History
The history of gambling dates back to the early 1700s. In 1727 it is recorded parishioners of St. Louis Church were upset because people chose to gamble instead of attending church. This prompted a law prohibiting gambling during the time of religious services. The law failed to have the desired effect, and the state subsequently passed a law prohibiting gambling altogether – conceding in 1753 it was unable to control underground gambling and opening the first regulated casino.
Louisiana became a US territory in 1803 and, at the time, gambling was a major factor in New Orleans´ economy. It was such a major part of the community that the federal government exempted New Orleans from a federal ban on gambling in 1812. Over the next few years Louisiana went from one extreme to another, legalizing and banning various forms of gambling. The laws went back and forth until 1823, when the state approved six regulated gambling establishments in New Orleans.
The first Louisiana state lottery was started in 1868 to raise funds following the American Civil War . The Louisiana Lottery Company was a private venture operated by Charles Howard – a former agent of the Kentucky Lottery – who paid the state $40,000 per year in return for a twenty-five year exclusive license. Unfortunately, the lottery was extremely corrupt and often won its own prizes. Consequently, when the license came up for renewal, it was denied in a public referendum.
The early 1900s brought pari-mutuel betting on horse races to New Orleans. In the 1920s this was the only legalized gambling in the state of Louisiana outside of New Orleans, but illegal casinos continued to flourish elsewhere. These casinos were raided at times, but they continued to operate. The state had plenty of money coming in from oil production at this time so it was not concerned with making money from gambling.
This all changed in 1980s. The economy was collapsing, and Louisiana needed new revenue streams. Some lawmakers wanted to legalize some forms of gambling to bring in more revenue, but other lawmakers were opposed. The battle went on until the early 1990s when the voters of Louisiana approved a state lottery, fifteen riverboat casinos and video poker machines in 1991. In 1993, three Native American tribes in Louisiana were granted compacts with the state to open land-based casinos.
Recent Developments in Lousiana Gambling Laws
A lot have things have happened very quickly in Louisiana. In early 2018, three separate bills were introduced to regulate Daily Fantasy Sports, land-based sports betting and online gambling. A further bill was introduced – and passed – that allows riverboat casinos to offer casino games on dry land within 1,200 feet of their registered berths. With regard to the DFS, sports betting and online gambling bills:
- The DFS bill was passed by the legislature and – as it represents an expansion of gambling – will be voted on in November´s referendum.
- The sports betting bill advanced through the Senate´s Committee on Judiciary but failed to progress beyond the Senate Finance Committee.
- The online gambling bill didn´t even make it past the Committee on Judiciary due to concerns it would cannibalize the Video Gaming industry, which currently contributes $320 million to the state annually.
One further issue will complicate all three bills in the long-term – assuming the DFS bill is approved by voters. This is that “parishes” (counties) also have to approve any expansion of gambling in their jurisdiction. The state of Louisiana has sixty-four parishes and the scenario exists that half of them could approve the DFS bill (and any other future expansion of gambling) while it remains illegal in the other parishes.
Will Louisiana Regulate Online Poker in the Future?
It is extremely unlikely. Not only will proponents of regulated online gambling face opposition from the politically-powerful Video Gaming Association, but online poker operators will have little appetite to push for legislation if there is the chance it will be voted down in a statewide referendum or in a parish-by-parish vote.
Even if federal legislation is passed to regulate online poker, parishes may still have a say on whether it will be allowed in their jurisdictions. Consequently, unless something absolutely remarkable happens, the chances of Louisiana regulating online poker in the future are extremely remote.