Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman has signed off on a new legal sports betting proposal, according to an industry source, and language for a new bill could be finalized by the middle of next week. That news comes on the heels of Rep. Bill Seitz telling Statehouse News earlier this week that a “possible agreement” has been worked out to legalize statewide mobile and retail sports betting.
Neither Seitz nor Sports Handle’s source could offer any information about the details of the latest agreement, which has been a year in the making. Some stakeholders still say Ohio lawmakers won’t legalize until 2022, despite a yearlong effort that included 14 meetings by a Senate Select Committee on Gaming.
“If there is one thing we have learned over three years in Ohio, it is to take the over,” said Brendan Bussmann, a partner at the gaming consultancy firm Global Market Advisors.
That committee ultimately filed a bill after months of meetings during which it heard from potential stakeholders ranging from existing casinos to grocers. The bill passed the House in March, was then amended and passed by the Senate, and the House declined to concur on the amendments. At that time, lawmakers pointed to legalization by June 30, but they couldn’t pull it off, and then were aiming for September.
A conference committee was named in October and here we are.
Gov. Mike DeWine has indicated that he would sign off on previous versions of legal wagering and has been a proponent of legalization, so it would seem to follow that if a bill does get out of the legislature, he’ll sign it.
Who will be the regulator?
With no details available, one key question is which entity will be named as the regulator in the latest iteration of a legal sports betting bill. The Senate has been angling for the Casino Control Commission to be in charge while the House has steadfastly held to having the Ohio Lottery as the regulator. Should the lottery be the regulator, then comes of the question of whether it would be able to offer its own product, like lotteries in New Hampshire or Louisiana have the right to do, or if it will strictly be the regulator, like lotteries in Tennessee or Virginia.
Republicans want the wealthy owners of casinos in Ohio's largest cities to benefit from legalize sports betting. I want small businesses throughout the state to get in on the action.https://t.co/o52TW3qB6R
— John Cranley (@JohnCranley) December 2, 2021
No matter the regulator, the one thing that Seitz did share this week is that whenever sports betting does get legalized and launches, there will be a designated launch day, as there was in Colorado on May 1, 2020, and Arizona on Sept. 9, 2021.
“We want to be sure to give the Casino Control Commission adequate time to do all of the vetting that they are charged with doing under this bill, and we want to make sure also that everyone starts at the same starting point. We’re not going to have some people get to market quicker than other people, that’s not fair, we’re all going to start at the same starting point,” Seitz told Statehouse News.
Ohio has been among the most perplexing states when it comes to the legalization process. There is little standing in the way of legal sports betting — there are no tribes or particularly loud lobbyists working against lawmakers. Rather, lawmakers have been unable to agree on a variety of issues, ranging from the number of licenses that should be made available to the size of the application fees. There’s also been a lot of debate about how to “protect” the state’s existing casinos, and who should be allowed to apply for a license.
Ohio lawmakers have been trying to legalize for three sessions, and this year had to start from scratch after key sports betting champions either term-limited out or failed to gain re-election.