Getting sports betting to Ohio residents would appear, on paper, to be as easy as an uncontested LeBron James slam dunk. The governor, Mike DeWine, is on record as wanting to see it happen. He’s a Republican, and the Republicans control both legislative chambers in Ohio. There are no big anti-gambling lobbies in the state demanding sports betting remain illegal — and none appeared in the nine-weeks-long hearings held in the Senate earlier this year — and there are no Native American tribal compacts to work through.
There should be no roadblocks.
But last year, like the year before that, despite all the political winds blowing at the backs of those seeking to legalize sports betting, efforts fell short.
The culprit? Which agency would be in charge of the whole shebang. The House lobbied for the Ohio Lottery Commission to be the regulator, while the Senate wanted the Ohio Casino Control Commission to handle the affairs.
And now, despite the same political will to get sports betting legalized, with added economic pressure due to the pandemic, it appears the issue is still not solved. The debate between which department is going to control sports betting — and, as a result, who will be allowed to offer sports betting — continues behind closed doors. Sen. Kirk Schuring, who helmed the Ohio Select Senate Committee on Gaming, promised a bill by the end of April.
Two competing views
“They’re working on it,” said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez last week on an episode of the Pat McAfee Show. “It’s politics. There’s a debate as to who should govern it, whether it’s the lottery commission or the gaming commission. I won’t weigh in to that, but as soon as they figure that out we’ll have it. Ohio’s going to get it done, it’s just a matter of when.”
Legal sports betting in Ohio?@RepAGonzalez says it's on the way! 🤑
— br_betting (@br_betting) April 20, 2021
Gonzalez’s statement — which elicited much joy from the hosts — is not at all fundamentally different from where Ohio was last year. New year, same tug-of-war.
Those in favor of the casino commission running the show include Ohio’s professional sports teams. In this plan, the state’s four casinos and seven racinos — in addition to the 10 Ohio pro sports teams and leagues — would be the recipients of the licenses, and then could team up with sportsbook platforms for a total of 21 “skins.” There would be brick and mortar sportsbooks at the casinos and racinos, and quite probably near the stadiums of the teams. There would also be mobile sports betting (and casino) play as well. In this plan, things would look similar to Michigan and New Jersey, with plenty of sportsbooks competing for the consumer dollar.
“Ohio has the opportunity to get it right and the way to get it right is to allow the sports teams to have fair market access, to have healthy competition, to limit the number of licenses, and to give fans the opportunities to engage with their favorite teams,” Curt Steiner, the spokesperson for the Ohio Professional Sports Coalition, told the Statehouse News Bureau.
But other groups want to see the lottery take control, and in that scenario, sports betting would flow through the lottery machinery with existing lottery kiosks serving as access points for would-be sports bettors. Those would be at lottery retailers, bowling alleys, convenience marts, restaurants, bars, etc. Mobile betting would also be allowed, but options in many lottery-run states such as New Hampshire and Oregon have created markets where residents can choose from far fewer than 21 sportsbooks. More like one.
And plenty of heavy hitters are backing this plan.
“We’re very interested in making sure [sports betting] can happen from everywhere,” Greg Beswick of the Ohio Fair Gaming Coalition Beswick told the Ohio Capital Journal.
Schuring says for sure
One thing is clear: A bill is coming, one way or another.
“I put together 200 bullet points on just the rules, regulations and governance,” he said. “And last week I met several times over, several hours with Senate President [Matt] Huffman. On Wednesday of last week, we finally got to the point where we offered language to the Legislative Service Commission, so the bill is actually being drafted right now. I expect it to come back from the Legislative Service Commission this week and we’ll introduce it soon. I think we’re going to have to have a press conference before we introduce it, just so I can explain exactly what it does and does not do. But, it’s coming, it’s going to be before the select committee on gaming here in the very near future.”
And once it goes back to committee, it will be discussed, and, hopefully, the House and the Senate can get together and hammer out an agreement.
Clearly, the two competing plans have little in common, and the idea that they can somehow be merged seems like a longshot.
In the end, if Ohio legalizes sports betting, there are certainly going to be winners and losers.