Ohio lawmakers on Tuesday continued to keep sports betting in the news even though there is nothing new … unless you count yet another promise to make it a priority.
A day before the self-imposed June 30 deadline to legalize sports betting made by Sen. Kirk Schuring earlier this year, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that both Schuring and House Speaker Bob Cupp are aiming to sort out the details on a sports betting bill and get it passed when the state legislature returns from its summer break in September. The Senate passed a sports betting bill on June 16, but nine days later, Cupp put it on hold, and the House never took up the issue.
And Tuesday, he promised to, well, keep talking about it.
“Over the summer, we’re going to be working on that to try to finalize it so when we come back in September, that’s one of the first things we do,” Cupp told the Enquirer. “That’s our goal and that’s our hope.”
Buckeyes and broken promises
Ohioans have been subjected to a seemingly endless string of broken promises — dating to 2018 — when it comes to legalizing sports betting. Lawmakers in the Buckeye State started the conversation in July 2018 with a bill that simply read “It is the intent of the General Assembly to develop and enact legislation legalizing sports wagering.”
Three years later, some lawmakers support the concept of inclusiveness and up to 65 operator licenses in the state, while others want to show favoritism to professional sports teams and cut out casinos.
Late last night, the Senate amendments to HB 29, which included the newest version of sports betting, were unanimously rejected, which sets up a possible conference committee. No resolution on sports betting in Ohio until after Labor Day.
— Dan Dodd (@dan_dodd) June 29, 2021
The only thing clear in Ohio through the last three years is there there is no cohesive plan for what legal sports betting will look like. In fact, after spending months listening to input from stakeholders, Schuring’s Joint Select Committee on Gaming filed SB 176, which was immediately amended and then shot down by the House. Then the Senate decided to attach the issue of sports betting to a veterans’ identification proposal, which the House also shot down. Both bills went through enough changes to make them unrecognizable, and in the end, unpassable.
Is anything different now?
The question now, really, is how Schuring or Cupp think it will be possible to find common ground.
“I will be working very diligently with key members of the House, key members of the interested parties, and Senate President Matt Huffman to put everything in order so we can take quick action when we come back in September,” Schuring told the Enquirer.
Legalizing sports betting in Ohio will be 'top priority' in September, House Speaker says https://t.co/kD9YBpHfGE via @enquirer
— Jessie Balmert (@jbalmert) June 29, 2021
After 14 meetings, Schuring’s committee should have crafted a bill that was sure to pass. After all, it heard from stakeholders across the state and operators from across the nation, weighed the options, and offered up a framework that would have allowed for statewide mobile sports betting, with 40 brick-and-mortar licenses and 20 digital platforms. The Casino Control Commission would be the regulator, the licensing and Type A application and licensing fees were set at $1 million, and there was an operator-friendly 10% tax rate on sports betting revenue.
By the time the Senate was done tinkering, up to 78 licenses would have been available, there was a population-based cap on the number of master licenses that would have been allowed in certain counties, and the licensing fee was up to $2 million for the biggest operators. The 10% tax rate survived.
Michigan says ‘thanks’
As Ohio continues in its third attempt to legalize sports betting, it has gone from being a potential first mover in its region to a last mover. Since that first bill was filed in July 2018, all but one of Ohio’s five border states have legalized sports betting, and those four — Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — offer statewide mobile sports betting.
Should the legislature find a way to smooth the rifts and legalize this fall, live legal sports betting in the Buckeye State is still likely a year away. So for a third consecutive football season, Ohioans will take their loyalties and dollars across the border to bet on OSU, the Bengals, and the Browns.
Michigan, the latest border state to go live with digital wagering, will be only too happy to take its rival’s bets — and tax dollars.