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Louisiana HHR Gambling Ruled Unconstitutional

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A recent ruling by a district court judge in Louisiana has stirred controversy over the legality of historical horse racing (HHR) without local voter approval. This throws into question their future use, despite a previous addition to the pari-mutuel law in 2021 that authorized this form of gaming.

Slots or Entertainment?

HHR gaming machines closely resemble traditional slot machines. They play a significant role in the economic ecosystem of racing in various states, including Kentucky, Virginia and others.

Unlike typical slot machines, the outcomes of HHR are not determined by random number generators but rather by the results of previously conducted races, which remain unknown to the player. While Louisiana tracks are permitted to offer other forms of gambling, the legality of HHR has become a subject of contention.

Related: Exacta Brings Historical Horse Racing to Ocean Casino New Hampshire

Richard Moore II, presiding judge for the 19th Judicial District Court in the Parish of East Baton Rouge, recently ruled in favor of six plaintiffs who had filed suit against several Louisiana racetrack owners. At the end of February, he agreed with their suit against Boyd Racing, Churchill Downs and other companies that operate HHR machines in Louisiana.

The suit contended that HHR represents a new form of gaming that was not part of the betting landscape before October 15, 1996, when Article 12 of the Louisiana Constitution was amended. That amendment stipulated that any new form of gaming, gambling, or wagering must be specifically authorized by law and approved by a majority vote in the respective parish through a referendum election.

A Violation of Louisiana's Constitution

Judge Moore sided with the plaintiffs, asserting that HHR wagering indeed constitutes a new form of gaming, thereby falling under the protective measures outlined in Article 12. He noted that despite the defendants' argument that HHR is a type of pari-mutuel wagering, the introduction of the 2021 legislation specifically authorizing HHR raised questions about its compatibility with existing laws.

In his ruling, Judge Moore issued a permanent injunction, barring tracks from conducting HHR wagering until voters in each parish have the opportunity to approve or disapprove its use through a referendum election. He emphasized the necessity of adhering to the constitutional requirements before allowing any further HHR activities to proceed.

The decision has sparked debates among stakeholders in the racing and gaming industries. It possibly holds strong implications for the future of HHR in Louisiana and potentially other states grappling with similar legal challenges.

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