Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed sports betting into law Wednesday afternoon, two weeks after a bill shot through the state legislature in mere hours. Ohio is the seventh U.S. jurisdiction to legalize in 2021, though the first bets probably won’t take place until next fall.
After years of disjointedly discussing legalization of sports betting, lawmakers on Dec. 8 moved a bill through conference committee, the Senate, and the House with little resistance and remarkable speed. The bill, which will allow for statewide mobile and retail wagering with a “preference” to existing casinos and professional sports teams, comes with a 10% tax on gross gaming revenue and puts the Casino Control Commission in charge of oversight.
The law allows for widespread betting opportunities in Ohio from Cleveland’s Jacobs Field to local bowling alleys. The lottery, which will have a small role in the regulation of wagering, will oversee betting at lottery vendors, including convenience stores, bars, and restaurants throughout the state.
Ohio is the seventh-biggest U.S. state by population, and it is the fourth biggest to legalize behind New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. The three biggest states in the nation, California, Texas, and Florida, do not presently have legal sports betting. Florida did temporarily, but the legality of a tribal-state compact allowing the Seminoles to offer it is tied up in court.
The exact timing of sports betting in Ohio is unclear. According to the new law, the Casino Control Commission can begin accepting “sports gambling proprietor” applications on Jan. 1, and it can issue licenses starting April 1. But the law also calls for an oversight committee that will in part be tasked with cleaning up any issues with the new law, and it’s not likely that group will be empaneled by the start of the new year.
It’s likely the first bets won’t be placed until the second half of 2022, and stakeholders are hoping for a football-season launch.
Stakeholders are already talking about what’s referred to as a “trailer bill” to clean up idiosyncrasies in the law, such as the timing of tax payments, among other things.
Expect all the big guys to be in Ohio
It’s reasonable to expect that every major operator — from Barstool and BetRivers to FanDuel and FOX Bet — will try for a piece of the action in Ohio, where a total of more than 50 digital skins or platforms will be available. Barstool Sportsbook, Bet365, BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars, DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Bet, theScore, and Unibet already have market access through casino partners.
Prior to this month, Ohio lawmakers had contemplated legal wagering for three sessions dating to 2018 but could not come to a consensus. One of the biggest sticking points in recent months was naming the regulator, with the House pushing for the Ohio Lottery and the Senate wanting the Casino Control Commission. It’s not clear how the Senate got the House to budge, but on balance, operators are more comfortable with a regulator that is familiar with gaming rather than lotteries.
Since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2018, more than 30 U.S. jurisdictions have either legalized or launched sports betting. Ohio initially looked like it would be in the first wave, but it was preceded by four of its five border states.
Pennsylvania legalized in 2017 ahead of PASPA being overturned, while West Virginia legalized and launched in 2018. Indiana did both in 2019, and Michigan legalized in late 2019 and enabled the first bets to be taken in March 2020. Kentucky is the only one of Ohio’s border states without legal wagering, and legalization there does not appear imminent despite some lawmakers’ efforts.