Ohio Sports Betting Bill Continues to Tread Water After Latest Hearing

Ohio Sports Betting Bill Continues to Tread Water After Latest Hearing article feature image

Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images. The Ohio state capitol building.

Ohio lawmakers took no action on a much-discussed sports betting bill Wednesday after more gaming entities and sports organizations testified during another gaming committee hearing.

Sports betting proponents hope the latest Senate Select Committee on Gaming hearing — the 12th this year — will continue shaping the bill, but license eligibility and other key issues continue to divide would-be stakeholders.

These key decisions, particularly around licensure, will help determine when — or if — legal Ohio sports betting can begin.

Current Bill Details

The latest bill would allow up to 20 online sports betting mobile licenses with the state’s 11 casinos, and hybrid race track “racinos” are each expected to earn one skin apiece. Adjustments to the bill last week clarified each casino could also earn licensure to open a retail sportsbook at their facilities as well.

MGM (BetMGM), Penn National (Barstool), Churchill Downs (TwinSpires), Caesars and Hard Rock all have ownership stakes or partnerships with Ohio casinos and will likely launch their respective sportsbooks if legal wagering is approved. Other national industry leaders, including DraftKings and FanDuel, will likely pursue sportsbooks in Ohio, the nation’s seventh-most populated state.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission would regulate and select licensees. Lawmakers said any businesses, gaming or otherwise, could apply for a license if it has a “substantial” presence in the state. State Sen. Nathan Manning, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, cited Ford Motor Company as an example.

Casino stakeholders have pushed lawmakers to limit licenses to existing gaming interests. Testifying before a legislative committee Wednesday, Penn National’s Senior Vice President Eric Schippers said established operators' credibility, regulatory standards and ties to other U.S. markets ensure consumer protections.

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“If we lose a license in one jurisdiction, or are even penalized by regulators for a misstep, it has consequences in all the other jurisdictions in which we’re licensed,” Schippers testified Wednesday. “As public companies, our licenses are our most precious commodities.”

Assuming all casinos earn licenses, that leaves only nine online sportsbook opportunities left for all other state business interests. That would include the state’s professional major sports teams and organizations, which have lobbied for licenses and asked lawmakers to amend the bill to specifically limit certain sportsbook operator eligibility to sports entities.

Representatives from the Women’s Tennis Association submitted written testimony at a gaming committee hearing for the first time Wednesday, arguing that they should be included alongside the state’s other professional sports franchises and organizations such as the Cincinnati Reds and PGA Tour, both of which provided testimony at a committee hearing last week.

The WTA will host its inaugural Tennis in the Land tournament in Cleveland this summer. It would be the first women’s sports league, organization, event or venue to earn a U.S. sports betting license.

The bill would also create a second licensure class for up to 20 retail sportsbooks, 11 of which would most likely go to the brick-and-mortar casinos. Additionally, the state lottery could also offer $20 betting pools under the bill.

Next Steps

Lawmakers are getting closer to a formal vote that could advance the bill out of the gaming committee following months of hearings. Both the House and Senate would have to pass identical versions of the same bill, which may not come until later this summer.

Lawmakers Wednesday again reiterated a June 30 approval target, but significant work remains.

Elected officials will have to work through the online and retail licensing caps and requirements discussed Wednesday. The state’s established gaming facilities want 20 (or fewer) total licenses, but Ohio’s sports interests are pushing for more — or at least their own specific authorization to do so.

That’s alongside the myriad other interested stakeholders, including the bar, restaurant and hospitality industry, that have pushed for as many licenses as possible.

Licensure eligibility is in addition to many other key tax, regulatory and other policy decisions. Notably, Ohio’s current bill would also not allow sportsbooks to deduct promo credit from their taxes, a move opposed by many current operators.

In the meantime, Ohio sports bettors — and the regulated sports betting industry overall — continue waiting for lawmakers’ moves on one of the nation’s most-watched legal wagering bills.

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