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Ohio has been poisoning itself to legalize sports betting for the better part of two years now, and it’s still left without any passable bills. Early incarnations of an Ohio sports wagering bill died in committee (as many do) in 2019. Often, a bill will be introduced and handed off to committees for the task of deliberating and fleshing out the finer details of said bill, only to “die”: that is, there was not a vote to move the bill out of committee for consideration, effectively abandoning the bill.
Such was the case for SB 111 and its counterpart in the Ohio House, HB 194, neither of which were convincing enough to move forward. There’s no new kid in town just yet, but recent developments are a good indicator that a sports betting bill will be filed shortly:
At the end of March, the needle moved a little bit closer to actually having a piece of legislation that might stand a chance: the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming finished two months of hearings and statements. One of the major takeaways from their discussions? Ohio is being bled dry by bettors going out-of-state.
Tons of bettors are driving across state lines to access the legal betting services offered by Ohio’s neighbors: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Indiana all have legal sports betting available to both residents and non-residents. Estimates are in the millions of dollars as to how much cash Ohio is losing, and the best way to recapture that revenue would simply be to legalize the process. Another Point of Contention Remains: College Sports
It’s safe to say that most states have allowed for bets on collegiate sports, including Ohio’s legal gambling neighbors. However, testimony from the aforementioned Select Committee hearings are throwing up some red flags:
Bruce Johnson, former lieutenant governor of Ohio and president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, warns that allowing bets on collegiate sports holds an inherent risk of corruption. He believes that student-athletes might “compromise performance or trade on information in exchange for financial gain”. Whether this will actually happen is a big point of discussion, but Ohio residents certainly won’t be happy if they don’t end up being able to bet on their favorite collegiate events.
You can’t get through an article about Ohio’s emerging sports betting landscape without hearing some pie metaphors: who gets a slice, how big, etc. It’s about the aptest metaphor you can find, though, because everyone from pro sports leagues in Ohio to bowling alleys running keno machines are clamoring for their cut.
At the end of the day, the deciding factors here are twofold: will the Ohio Casino Control Commission or the Lottery run the show? And who will be eligible for a license when the show starts? Ohio-based pro sports teams like the Cavs and the Indians (we’re still unsure about that name) want to be able to open retail sportsbooks at their venues and offer mobile apps alongside the state’s casinos and racinos. Lottery vendors, through the Ohio Fair Gaming Commission, want to be able to offer sports betting at kiosks. Everyone wants mobile betting.
The takeaway here is that there is a chorus of voices in Ohio, each singing a slightly different tune, all wanting to make money off of legal sports betting. It’s certain that the Buckeye State will get access to a legal and regulated betting framework, but the finer details: who will be in charge, and who will get to offer bets, remains relatively unclear.
As Ohio’s legislative session lasts all year (unlike some other states with two sessions per year), there’s no pressure to make a decision. When the needle jumps forward again with Ohio sports betting legislation, you’ll be the first to know.
Chris Altman is a traveling writer and content specialist covering everything from betting to plane crashes. He has been working in sports betting, specifically legislation for some time now, covering industry developments and the legal landscape of sportsbooks in the U.S. Chris is also a published short story writer and zine editor. Email: [email protected]More info on Chris Altman
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