More questions than answers are the result of two Ohio lawmakers initiating the process on Thursday of establishing a framework for sports betting in the Buckeye State.
Senate Bill 316 was introduced by Sens. John Eklund, a Munson Township Republican, and Sean O’Brien, a Bazetta Democrat, however, the legislation has few specifics on what legal, Nevada-style sports wagering may look like in the state.
O’Brien says the bill is deliberately devoid of any details including if wagers on Ohio’s major professional sports teams in Cleveland (Indians-MLB, Browns-NFL, Cavaliers-NBA), Columbus (Blue Jackets-NHL) and Cincinnati (Reds-MLB, Bengals-NFL) will be legal. Betting on national college football power Ohio State and other Ohio college teams is also unaddressed.
Ohio Sports Betting Bill Emerges, With Key Questions Ahead About Wagering on In-State Collegiate Events
O’Brien said he wanted a bill introduced so it will have a bill number and constituents can offer opinions. He said he hopes to have more specifics in the bill by August or September. Currently it is only 16 words in length and reads: “It is the intent of the General Assembly to develop and enact legislation legalizing sports wagering.” Ohio’s legislative session runs until the very end of the year.
Ohio, considered a bellwether state politically, is expected to be under pressure to enact sports betting legislation because neighboring West Virginia sports betting licensees (all five of its casinos and racetracks) are expected to begin taking wagers at the end of August or early September.
West Virginia temporary regulations were approved on June 21 and recently filed. They allow licensees to offer mobile and online component that would attract the large segment of prospective sports bettors living in Ohio who, after signing up and depositing money, may access West Virginia sports pools by merely driving across the state border.
“My thinking right now is we already have casinos and racinos set up,” O’Brien said. “I’d kind of like to keep it in those institutions because they are set up for gaming. I’m not sure we want it in every 7-Eleven … and every bar.”
Last week, JACK Entertainment, a major casino operator in Ohio, issued a written statement regarding the possibility of Nevada-style sports betting in Ohio.
Matt Cullen, chief executive officer, JACK Entertainment, in an e-mail said, “Under the proper regulatory framework, we support the State of Ohio moving forward with sports betting at brick and mortar facilities.”
He continued, “However, the detailed state regulations that will be written in response to the Supreme Court’s decision will determine the safety and viability of this potential amenity. Certainly there is significant guest interest in sports betting being available at our facilities.”
Because JACK operates casinos in Downtown Cleveland, at Thistledown, a racetrack in a suburb east of the city, as well as Cincinnati, lawmakers will have to address Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s concurrent controlling ownership of JACK.
In Atlantic City, the Golden Nugget Atlantic City is owned by Tilman Fertitta, who also owns the Houston Rockets. New Jersey sports betting law and regulations currently prohibit the Golden Nugget, when it opens its sportsbook operation in early 2019 in a previously announced deal with Churchill Downs Inc., from taking any NBA wagers on any team.
In Nevada, however, common ownership of a casino and a professional sports team only requires the casino to prohibit wagers on games in which the owner’s team in involved. In Downtown Las Vegas, the Golden Nugget, also a Fertitta casino property, takes no action on the Houston Rockets, but does accept wagers on other NBA games.
Betting on the Buckeyes?
The question of whether Ohio would allow sports betting on college games is of particular interest because of the high-intensity nature of Ohio State University football fans.
Mississippi is moving forward on legal sports wagering with first wagers expected to take place this month. The Magnolia State will make no restriction whatsoever on wagering on contests involving Ole Miss or Mississippi State, as Allen Godfrey, Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, scoffed at such a limitation. “Tell me that people are not already betting on these games all over the place, anyways,” Godfrey quipped.
Ohio state home to a significant number of other NCAA football and basketball teams, including six of the twelve members of the Division One FBS Mid-America Conference and the University of Cincinnati now a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC), formerly known as the Big East, also a Division One FBS school.
Industry observers note that sports betting in Ohio could be extremely unattractive if wagering on the NBA at JACK casinos and state college football teams at any operation were unavailable, in addition to a prohibition on mobile and online betting.