Louisiana Historical Horse Racing Illegal Unless Local Vote, Judge Says

Estimated read time 3 min read

Historical horse race machines (HHR) are illegal in Louisiana unless they have been specifically authorized by local voters, a state court has ruled.

Churchill Downs’ Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, above, is one of four Louisiana racetracks that offer HHR machines, which have now been ruled unconstitutional by a judge. (Image: Hospitality Online)

That’s bad news for racetrack operators like Boyd Racing and Churchill Downs, which rely on the machines to boost revenues.

When the legislature legalized HHR in 2021, it was billed as a lifeline for the state’s ailing horse racing industry.

What are HHR Machines?

The terminals look and operate similarly to traditional Las Vegas-style slot machines but their outcomes are based on previously run horse races instead of a random number generator (RNG).

They also operate using a pool-betting system, which manufacturers argue makes them pari-mutuel machines and, therefore, compliant with the type of betting that is widely legal at US racetracks.

HHR machines can also ape slots more closely by showing reels and allowing gamblers to select a “quick pick,” giving the player the “horse” with the shortest odds of winning.

The case boils down to a 1996 amendment to Louisiana’s constitution. This states, in part, that “no law authorizing a new form of gaming, gambling, or wagering” that was not legal prior to the enactment of the amendment may be passed “unless a referendum election on a proposition to allow such gaming, gambling, or wagering is held in the parish (county) and the proposition is approved by a majority of those voting thereon.”

 New Tech or Historical Gambling?

Six Louisiana residents recently sued the state’s four racetrack operators arguing that HHR machines were a “new” form of gaming that required voter approval.

The operators countered that because HHR machines essentially function as pari-mutuel betting games, they are legitimate, since pari-mutuel betting was legal in the state before 1996.

Judge Richard “Chip” Moore II of the 19th Judicial District Court in the Parish of East Baton Rouge agreed with the plaintiffs. He noted that if the machines were permitted under the 1996 amendment, it would not have been necessary for the legislature to authorize them specifically.

This court is of the opinion that historical horse racing wagering is a new form of gaming and falls under the protections afforded by Article 12 of the Louisiana Constitution, as amended,” Moore wrote. “This court is also persuaded by the fact that machines used to facilitate historical horse racing did not appear in any gambling facility until 2000.”

It’s not immediately clear how the ruling impacts the racetracks that offer HHR machines, such as Boyd Gaming’s Delta Downs, Churchill Downs’ Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Louisiana Downs, and Evangeline Downs.

Moore declined to issue a permanent injunction banning HHR machines pending an anticipated trial on the matter.

The post Louisiana Historical Horse Racing Illegal Unless Local Vote, Judge Says appeared first on Casino.org.



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