Bowling alleys and ballclubs are the latest entities to make their pitch to be included in any Ohio sports betting legislation, as representatives from both businesses spoke in front of the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming Wednesday afternoon.
The hearing was highlighted by testimony from Doug Healy, the CFO of the Cincinnati Reds, who was speaking on behalf of not only his team, but of all the professional sports franchises in Ohio. His main point? That each of the Ohio sports franchises should be given access to both a mobile and retail sports betting skin.
“As an industry that drives billions of dollars in economic impact and employs tens of thousands of Ohioians, the professional teams are firmly aligned in supporting legislation to allow these entities to partner with a regulated sports betting operator for market access in the state of Ohio,” Healy said as part of his testimony.
He also asked the committee to make sure official league data is used by sportsbook operators to avoid any whiff of impropriety.
But it was his request that the teams gain market access that took up much of his time.
“It is imperative that Ohio’s sports betting market include access to both mobile and retail sportsbooks for Ohio’s professional entities so that as the content creators, we share in both the risk and the benefit, just like the casinos,” Healy said. “Last year’s legislation simply assumed that the casino monopoly in gambling would be continued with the expansion of sports betting due to the casino’s investment in their businesses and job creation.
“While it is true that each casino has made significant investments and have created jobs throughout the state of Ohio, the Cincinnati Reds have been a leading driver of commercial activity and economic growth in our community for over 150 years. … Legalized sports betting imposes risks on our sport that we are willing to accept so long as we have access to the benefit of new revenue from that market.”
No Reds, no bets
Healy noted that without sports, there would be no sports betting, and further pointed out that as a result of COVID closures in 2020, there was nothing to bet on for long stretches of time, a statement not wholly accurate as, even at the height of the pandemic, Russian ping-pong was still being offered by many legalized sportsbooks.
“Our message is that a safe and successful sports betting market in Ohio must function like a three-legged stool where each leg is recognized for its role and shares in both the risks and benefits of a regulated and legal sports betting market,” he said. “Those three legs are the casinos with their sportsbooks, the state of Ohio, and the sports franchises which put on the games that are the subject of betting.”
Also speaking on behalf of the state’s professional sports teams was FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding, who spent the majority of his time — which lasted a robust 22 minutes — speaking about how soccer was an up-and-coming American sport and how the team’s new stadium will attract fans. He spent very little time discussing his position on sports betting in Ohio, which was exactly that of Healy.
In fact, his time went on for so long that when he gave a simple “Yes, we sure do believe that,” to an inaudible question (due to a microphone malfunction) from Sen. Cecil Thomas, the chair of the committee, Sen. Kirk Schuring, quipped, “Thank you for that succinct answer.”
Bowling alleys face a 7-10 split
On the bowling front, David Corey, the executive vice president of the Bowling Centers Association of Ohio, pleaded with the committee to allow sports betting on existing Ohio Lottery keno kiosks already installed in the state’s bowling alleys.
“Ohio small businesses need the legislature to allow for sports betting through lottery kiosks in bowling centers,” Corey testified. “It would be another fatal blow if the general assembly doesn’t allow these forms of gaming to help us attract and retain customers.”
Corey sought to assuage the committee that gamblers bringing duffel bags full of cash — as was discussed at an earlier hearing — would not be an issue.
“Out-of-state casino operators keep talking about a $100,000 cash bet from a motorcycle rider with a duffel bag of cash,” he said. “We know that won’t and can’t happen in Ohio because the lottery has limits on the size of bets.”
In his pitch to allow the lottery to have the “scraps” of sports betting (Corey was not advocating for the lottery to run the whole thing), he falsely noted that Tennessee allows lottery operators to take bets.
“Other states are beginning to look at sports gaming differently in the wake of COVID,” he said. “Tennessee allows lottery retailers to offer sports betting. Massachusetts is looking into it also. And there will be many others since COVID has changed the way states are looking at helping small businesses recover. All we want to do is compete at a somewhat level playing field. Our goal is to keep patrons in their seats so they buy that extra pop, beer, or sandwich and maybe even bowl a couple of more games.”
Sportsbooks and casinos pitch in
Also speaking at the hearing was Kevin Cochran, DraftKings senior manager of government affairs and senior corporate counsel, who hit on the main talking points of the current sportsbook operators, namely a competitive marketplace, reasonable taxes, and an expansive betting menu.
Rounding out the day was Dan Reinhard of Ohio-based Jack Entertainment, which operates a pair of Ohio casinos. Reinhard also hit upon the themes from other casino and sportsbook operators, specifically keeping the tax rate low so as to guarantee operators will want to come and create a competitive marketplace.
The committee will continue to meet on Wednesdays until anyone who wants a chance to speak on the future of sports betting in Ohio has their opportunity to do so.