Legal sports betting? La. lawmaker considers using revenue to fund early education

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Louisiana lawmakers looking to legalize sports betting are poised to take another gamble this spring, with childhood education on their minds.

Sen. Danny Martiny plans to draft a bill to let sports betters make wagers inside casinos and race tracks. It could include an amendment that would earmark gambling revenue to early child care.

“You’re not going to run into too many people who will tell you that dedicating money to early childhood education is a bad idea,” Martiny told BRProud.com.

Martiny’s bill last year to legalize sports betting — which did not seek to fill early learning gaps — failed in the Legislature. The Jefferson Parish Republican argues that dedicating dollars to state care programs could raise his chances of success this time around.

“My job as a legislator is to get the necessary votes to get the bill passed,” he said. “I’m just trying to wade my way through the legislative process.”

The effort comes as state education officials seek to ease a waitlist in the state’s pre-kindergarten services. More than 3,000 children age three and under are awaiting aid through the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps working families in need.

“They’re waiting to go to work, waiting to find a safe educational place for their child,” state education Superintendent John White told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday. “We cannot afford to segment opportunity and leave kids out.”

Members of the state’s Early Childhood Care and Education Commission say improving the program could cost about $86 million a year for the next 10 years.

Martiny is considering a 10 to 12 percent tax rate on wagers, which would deliver between $25 million and $40 million annually.

White says legalized sports betting on its own would not be enough to meet his department’s early education needs. He also questions whether the Legislature’s critics of sports betting will shift their stance. Opponents have long argued that authorizing wagers would enable problem gamblers.

“My observation in the politics is not that it’s evident that this is a good thing in the first place, wherever I stand on it,” he said.

State lawmakers are set to start considering bills when they reconvene at the State Capitol on April 8.

Legislative support would mark only one step in the legalization of sports betting. Parish voters would still have to decide this October whether to permit it inside casinos and race tracks. The Gaming Control Board would still have to craft regulations before the activity can become legal.

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