The chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board (LGCB) could barely contain his excitement on Wednesday as he talked about the impact online sports betting will have on his state when wagers commence on Friday morning (January 28).
“It’s going to be a game changer,” said Ronnie Johns, who has been LGCB chairman since August, speaking to VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an interview.
After resisting pressure to go online in time for the college football bowl season in December, Johns said he is delighted Louisiana will be ready for the three remaining NFL playoff games including the Super Bowl on February 13.
“This state is going crazy for the Cincinnati Bengals right now because Joe Burrow is their quarterback. He has become a cult hero in Louisiana,” Johns said.
Burrow won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s most outstanding player in 2019 when he led Louisiana State University to a national championship.
The betting handle in Louisiana is expected to be lopsided in favor of the Cincinnati Bengals even though they will be underdogs when they play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday for a berth in the Super Bowl.
“That was our goal — to be ready for the Super Bowl,” Johns said.
“But we wanted to get sports betting right because of what it means for our industry and for our customers,” he said. “Since sports betting started in November (at brick-and-mortar casinos) in Louisiana, I have not had one single complaint from a customer cross my desk.”
Online sports betting took more time, partly due to the geofencing required for nine of Louisiana’s 64 parishes that voted against legalizing sports wagering in 2020, according to Johns.
Brick-and-mortar casinos already have seen more than $67m in sports-betting handle during the last two months of 2021, generating some $10.1m in revenue.
With the launch of mobile sports betting, the market is expected to reach approximately $332m in revenue in 2026, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance forecasts.
DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars, Barstool and BetMGM have confirmed they will be taking bets online in Louisiana as soon as wagering begins Friday morning.
Even though Texas has not even legalized casinos yet, it may be the state most affected by online betting in Louisiana, Johns said.
“Two of our biggest markets are in Lake Charles (less than 145 miles from Houston) and Bossier City (less than 190 miles from Dallas),” he said.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of people from Texas making those trips, and I keep hearing it’s going to be at least five years before gambling is legal in Texas,” Johns said.
Johns also said he is pleased Louisiana will launch sports betting on the internet before its neighbor to the east and chief rival, Mississippi.
“I think this is the first time we have ever been ahead of Mississippi on anything in gaming,” Johns said.
Mississippi casinos began taking bets just three months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal sports-betting ban on May 14, 2018.
But online bets still are not allowed in the Magnolia State, and House and Senate bills to change that situation have to be passed out of committee by February 1 or it will be another year without mobile sports wagering in Mississippi.
Jay McDaniel, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, did not respond to a request for comment.
Ronnie Jones, a former chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, agreed with Johns that internet sports betting will be “huge” in Louisiana.
Jones, who now lives in Virginia and works as a gaming industry consultant, praised Johns and other Louisiana gaming regulators for not rushing online.
“I think the lesson we learned in Louisiana, from the very beginning when gambling ran into problems, is to get it right the first time,” Jones said.
“It’s worth it to wait a couple of more months to have a smooth and safe rollout.”
Jones said he does not anticipate a surge of support for online sports betting in other states in the Deep South after Louisiana starts taking wagers online.
“The opposition to internet gambling is pretty intense in states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia,” Jones said.
A tribal gaming state such as Oklahoma may be more receptive to online sports betting.
Republican state Representative Ken Luttrell of Oklahoma has introduced a sports-betting bill intended “to serve as a conversation starter, which I think it is doing, but it is still unclear where the governor (Republican Kevin Stitt ) stands,” said John Holden, an assistant professor of business at Oklahoma State University.