Ohio Sports Betting Bill Looks To Regain Momentum

Ohio Sports Betting Bill Looks To Regain Momentum article feature image

Gaelen Morse/Getty Images. Pictured: Ohio Stadium.

Ohio sports betting backers are hoping to regain momentum on a long-stalled legalization proposal.

The Ohio Senate, which has already passed a sports betting bill, called for a conference committee Wednesday to help advance the proposal. Backers hope a joint conference committee of Senate and House members can help finally pass legislation that has lingered in the legislature for years.

The current sports betting legislation is attached to an unrelated veteran identification bill. The Senate, hoping to pass the bill before a self-imposed June 30 deadline, inserted the sports betting language in the ID bill on June 25, which had already passed the House.

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The House unanimously rejected the sports betting provisions of the ID legislation on June 29, meaning it could not pass into law. Lawmakers took a summer recess beginning in July, delaying further action on the bill until the 2021 session reconvened earlier this month.

Sports betting legalization in general has bipartisan, bicameral support as well as backing from the state’s casinos and professional sports organizations. Lawmakers are still wrestling with license allocation, among other key decisions, which has stalled the current bill and derailed previous legalization efforts in prior legislative sessions.

Ohio's current legislative session is set to conclude in December 2022, though sports betting backers hope to have a bill passed that could allow sports betting to begin sometime next year.

A conference committee could be a key step toward rectifying the legislative logjam. Industry observers, as well as lawmakers themselves, were optimistic before Wednesday’s conference committee request that sports betting legislation would pass this year; the committee could help the bill finally cross the proverbial goal line.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I know we can get it done,” Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko told The Action Network in July.

Current Bill Details

The legislation has undertaken multiple revisions following months of hearings, further prolonging the legislative process. Lawmakers tried to balance the state’s existing brick-and-mortar gaming facilities, pro sports organizations and hospitality industry stakeholders, all of which lobbied extensively for sports betting license access.

The current legislation now included as part of the voter ID bill would permit as many as 25 statewide mobile licenses. There could also be up to 40 retail sportsbooks throughout the state.

Ohio’s 11 casinos and hybrid horse racing track “racinos” could have two skins apiece. The state’s eight combined NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS franchises could have one online skin each, as too could the PGA Tour and NASCAR, each of which host events in Ohio.

Other leagues, including the Women’s Tennis Association, have also sought sports betting licensee authorization. Hall of Fame Resorts and Entertainment, a publicly traded company based in Canton, is hiring for its gaming division and would presumably also pursue sports betting access in its home state.

The current bill also leaves room for entities not affiliated with a casino or professional sports organization. Lawmakers earlier in the legislative process opened the door for virtually any business with an Ohio presence to pursue a license with bill sponsor Sen. Nathan Manning citing Ford Motor Company as an example.

The casinos and sports franchises would almost assuredly all go after retail licenses as well. The current law allows up to five retail books in counties with more than 800,000 residents; three in counties with 400,000 to 800,000 residents; and one book license in those with at least 100,000 residents.

Lawmakers have also pushed to include sports betting access for veteran and fraternal organizations as well as certain bars and restaurants. These entities could apply for a limited number of betting kiosk licenses.

Worth Noting

Ohio’s population and sports background would make it a major target for the nation’s leading sports operators. Top sportsbooks including DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Caesars and Barstool all either have an existing casino affiliate in the state or will pursue market access.

Other likely sportsbook entrants or companies with market access deals include PointsBet, TwinSpires, WynnBet and MaximBet, among others.

Editor's note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said the current Ohio legislative session concludes in December 2021. It is set to end in December 2022.

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