By Juanice Gray and Carolyn Roy
It’s been 25 years since Natchitoches Parish voters had video draw poker on the ballot, but that could soon change. Rep. Kenny Cox, whose district covers parts of Natchitoches, DeSoto and Red River Parishes, has pre-filed four bills in the 2021 regular legislative session.
Of interest is HB319 that deals with allowing the operation of video draw poker devices in Natchitoches parish. Video poker streams revenue into DeSoto and Red River Parishes, but is currently not allowed in Natchitoches Parish.
The measure was defeated at the ballot box Nov. 5, 1996. A parishwide election, all 54 precincts, defeated the ballot item with 5,678 voting against it opposed to 5,300 in favor. A tedious review of every election in the parish over the past 30 years, from January 1990 to present, revealed video poker was only put before the voters that one time. Since the defeat in 1996, only two gaming items have been on the ballot in Natchitoches Parish. Voters passed an option for fantasy sports Nov. 6, 2018, by the narrowest of margins, 5,445 to 5,342 votes.
Voters also passed a sports wagering option Nov. 3, 2020. That measure passed 8,966 votes to 6,099. Since the last two gaming related bills were approved by voters, Cox says the gambling industry believes there may have been a change in people’s minds. He said Wednesday in a telephone interview that he introduced the bill at the request of several people.
“I agreed to carry the bill only if it allows people to vote on it.” If the bill makes it through the Legislature, it could be signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards at the end of June with an election to follow in the fall.
Cox said video gaming in smaller towns like Coushatta and Mansfield provides a couple hundred thousand dollars of revenue where there is a small tax base. He believes the revenue can fill some holes in the economic base in Natchitoches Parish. Some gaming does exist in the parish, within the City of Natchitoches. Ordinances 50 of 1993 and 51 of 1994 pertained to video draw poker devices. Those ordinances allowed devices to be placed in certain truck stops or other businesses that met specific criteria. Charities are also allowed to operate Bingo and other gaming operations.
Cox’s bill would authorize the Parish Government, by ordinance or resolution, to call an election to allow the operation of video draw poker devices. The proposed law further provides that the ordinance specify the date of the election, wording of the ballot and that the costs of the election be borne by Parish Government.
Finally, it states that the election would only occur once.