Amended Sports Betting Bill Could Be Ohio’s Final 2020 Chance For Legalization

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Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: The Ohio State Buckeyes mascot.

Ohio lawmakers adopted an amended sports betting bill during a hearing Tuesday that would curtail the number of online sports betting licenses, the latest effort to pass the long-stalled legalization legislation before the 2020 session ends later this month.

The substitute measure would limit the state’s 11 casinos and hybrid casino/racetrack “racinos” to one retail license as well as an online license, or “skin,” apiece.

Largely opposed industry stakeholders, who argue this limits the options for a competitive marketplace, see this as the best way to gain political support in the statehouse for the beleaguered legislation.

The committee took no further action on the bill Tuesday, but backers are still hoping for a vote before the session ends this month.

Any action on the bill is no sure bet. Lawmakers have scheduled hearings on more than 100 bills this week alone, many of which have greater political and financial ramifications than the sports betting proposal.

Additionally, at least three lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19. Though Republican leadership in the GOP-controlled legislature have reportedly opposed prematurely curtailing the session, some Democratic leaders have already called for an immediate end to the lame-duck session.

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Bill Background

This month will also be the last opportunity to pass sports betting legislation for three of the four major backers.

The two Senate sponsors, Sen. John Eklund (term limits) and Sen. Sean O’Brien (re-election defeat) will not return for the 2021 session. A separate House measure loses sponsor Rep. Dave Greenspan, who also lost re-election. That leaves only Rep. Brigid Kelly among 2021 returnees — and a major leadership vacuum to fill if a new bill has to be introduced next year.

Much of Ohio’s sports betting 2020 hopes rest with the Senate proposal, which still have not even advanced out of committee. The House bill passed the lower chamber with widespread bipartisan support in May, but has not been taken up by the Senate, which has focused on its bill.

Along with skin counts, lawmakers have had to resolve key issues such as tax rates, license fees and a host of other regulatory concerns. The two chambers have also split between its preferred regulatory body, with the Senate backing the Ohio Casino Control Commission and the House supporting the state lottery.

Senate advocates are hoping to approve the new substitute-amended bill approved Tuesday, then advance legislation out of the General Government Committee and through the full Senate. From there, the two chambers would need to resolve differences between the two bills, then have both pass identical versions.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has publicly supported legal wagering and will likely sign any betting bill sent to his desk. Getting there may prove difficult, especially considering the legislative session’s scheduled Dec. 17 ending date and potential premature conclusion.

Predicting Ohio Sports Betting

If the latest single-skin proposal passes, Ohio sports bettors could have a decent idea which sportsbooks would enter the market.

Most of the gaming facilities eligible for digital sports betting licenses have some sort of partnership in other states, agreements that would likely extend to Ohio:

  • Four of the 11 casinos are operated by Penn National, which would almost assuredly launch its Barstool Sportsbook with one of the online sports betting licenses
  • Boyd Gaming’s Belterra Park Gaming & Entertainment Center in Cincinnati  would probably have a FanDuel sportsbook as the two companies already have a partnership deal in place
  • Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati could use its eponymous sports betting brand as it does in New Jersey, though the company has external branded partners in other states
  • Jack Entertainment operates two casinos in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and already has a deal with Kambi, a sports betting supplier. Kambi has relationships with DraftKings and BetRivers, among other companies, but these two market leaders could be logical candidates for a Jack Entertainment skin
  • MGM Northfield Park would almost assuredly use its skin for its own BetMGM online sportsbook
  • Churchill Downs’ Miami Valley Gaming harness race track/casino would seem like the home for its sports betting platform, BetAmerica
  • Scioto Downs Racino, owned by Caesars Entertainment, would likely use its skin on the company’s William Hill-branded online sportsbook