Industry Reports

Louisiana Lawmakers Ease Up on Truck-Stop Video Poker Machines

Louisiana lawmakers moved forward with legislation that is to loosen the restrictions on video poker games, offered at truck stops around the state. Two bills pushed through a state Senate committee on Tuesday without any objections on behalf of the legislators. The two pieces of legislation are the first to be publicly taken up for discussion since the start of the Senate’s regular session.

The two bills were sponsored by State Senators Daniel Martiny and Jean-Paul Morrell but the two left it to Alton Ashy, an avid lobbyist for video poker, to present the proposals and answer any questions related to them. Senator Martiny sponsored Senate Bill 184 while Senator J.P. Morrell is responsible for the sponsoring of Senate Bill 230.

During the discussions, Mr. Ashy explained that Senator Martini’s bill is the more important of the two proposals and its approval by the Senate would render Senate Bill 230 unnecessary. If approved, Senator Martiny’s proposal would enable operators to offer a broader range of video poker games.

Customers at truck stops would also have the option the play more hands at a time. Another provision of Senator Martini’s bill would overturn a requirement that calls for truck stops to sell a specific amount of fuel in order to retain the machines they have in operation. The only condition they would have to comply with is to have been in operation for ten or more years.

Mr. Ashy went on to explain that the owners of some of the truck stops in Louisiana are already struggling to sell the minimum amount of fuel per month required for them to continue operating their video poker machines. According to Mr. Ashy, this can be attributed to the state building more roads and interstates, which diverts traffic from the struggling truck stops.

If the bill sponsored by Senator Martiny passes, this would also loosen the parking restrictions that truck-stop casinos currently have to comply with. The passing of the bill would lift the restrictions that require establishments with video poker machines in operation to have their restaurants open for twelve hours per day. The amount of time during which the restaurants are open would be reduced.

The bill sponsored by Senator Morrell also includes a provision, related to the regulations of truck stops’ parking and restaurants, but without broaching the subjects of fuel amount and video poker machines variety. Mr. Ashy explained that Senator Morrell’s bill plays the role of a “placeholder”, as he worded it, in case SB 184 is not approved by the legislators. Both bills were met with general approval at the committee’s hearing. The only person to oppose the idea of relaxing current video poker regulations was a representative of the conservative non-profit group Louisiana Family Forum.

Video Poker Regulations Have Undergone Multiple Changes

Video poker regulations in the state have undergone a number of changes in the last decade, with one of the most recent examples taking place in the summer of 2017 when lawmakers introduced amendments to the amount of money video poker players can feed into the machines. The highest denomination accepted by the machines originally stood at $20, but the amount was increased to $100, which also made it easier for gamblers to spend larger sums over a shorter period of time. The law also allowed transferable vouchers to be used on the machines at truck stops, restaurants and bars.

However, the amendments proposed in the two new bills are way more significant and may help increase video poker’s contribution to the local economy. For the period between 2015 and 2016, the state has collected $186 million in funding from the video poker machines operating within its borders, with a net revenue of $580 million.

Louisiana is presently home to over 13,000 video poker machines across 1,800 establishments. About half of these machines are operated by truck stops. Statistics released by the Louisiana Gaming Control Board indicate Jefferson Parish operates the highest number of machines in the state, with 1,700 machines on its territory.

This year, the Pelican State saw the introduction of several pieces of legislation that aim at amending the regulations for gambling establishments, sports betting, interactive gaming, and fantasy sports, with the two video poker bills being the latest proposals. Louisiana’s Senate will gather in full to commence further discussions on the video poker bills next week.