Much like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, just when you thought the Ohio sports betting bill was out, they pull you back in.
The machinations going on here are classic politics, to be clear, and also a little mind-bending.
To nutshell the current situation: There might be a House of Representatives vote on legalizing sports betting Friday afternoon, and Ohio’s casinos would be back in the game if it passes.
To crack open the nutshell and try to piece together just what, exactly, is going on: Last week, the Ohio Senate passed the sports betting bill 30-2, although there were some reservations expressed by two senators concerning how the bill was doling out Type B, brick-and-mortar sportsbook licenses. In short, the bill would give preferential treatment to professional sports teams that want a license, and there were population-based limits as to how many licenses could be doled out per county. The upshot — and the concern from the pair of senators — was that casinos were effectively being blocked from getting a license to operate a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.
Then on Wednesday, House Speaker Bob Cupp poured a bucket of cold water on the whole affair, telling Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Jessie Balmert that it was “too late” to pass the sports betting bill by the Senate’s self-imposed June 30 deadline.
.@SpeakerCupp says it’s too late to pass the sports betting bill before June 30. That was the goal but it’s better to get it done right than by some arbitrary deadline.
— Jessie Balmert (@jbalmert) June 23, 2021
Upshot of that? It seemed highly unlikely, bordering on impossible, that the bill would get a vote before autumn at the earliest. And the upshot of that? The April 1, 2022, date the Senate bill circled for “opening day” for legalized sports betting in Ohio would just be a cruel joke.
How the sausage gets made
But just when it seemed all hope was lost … a late Thursday Hail Mary arrived. This one is politics as its finest and/or its worst. Deep breath, then, with massive thanks to the Enquirer’s Balmert for unraveling the following …
A completely separate bill — Senate Bill 187, which would allow student-athletes to profit off their name and likeness — had bipartisan support and was headed for a vote when Republican members of the Senate added language to the bill that would ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports. Predictably, this cratered the bill, as the Democrats walked away from it.
This caused grief for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Niraj Antani. He needed to find a way to get the student-athlete bill passed. So he added it to another bill, House Bill 29, which is a bill to create identification cards for veterans.
Antani is also the co-sponsor of the sports betting bill. And apparently he — and others who served with him on the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming — saw enough white space in House Bill 29 to tack on the sports betting bill.
“We think we have an amendment that will finally get gaming accepted and be a part of the Ohio Revised Code,” said the committee chair, Sen. Kirk Schuring, according to the Enquirer. “It’s long overdue.”
As a result, the number of retail sportsbooks has once again changed. Under the proposed amendment, there would now be up to 40 brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in Ohio, up from 33. Furthermore, the population limits have been changed. Counties with 800,000 or more residents could have five retail sportsbooks, counties with 400,000 to 800,000 residents three sportsbooks, and counties with 100,000 or more one sportsbook. Previously, counties with a million residents could have three, counties with 500,000 to 999,999 could have two, and counties 100,000 and up could have one.
By changing it to five sportsbooks for counties with over 800,000 people — which includes the counties that house Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland — this would allow both pro sports franchises and casinos access to licenses.
The Senate passed the bill Thursday night in a 31-0 whitewash. It’s now back in the hands of the House of Representatives, which was scheduled to meet Friday afternoon at 1 p.m.
Cupp, though, still has reservations that anything is going to get done.
Just to continue my sports betting legislative leader telephone: @SpeakerCupp says passing sports betting would be "an extremely high lift. We have not even had an opportunity for a single committee hearing over here on sports betting."
"I can't see it getting done." https://t.co/itKlPeLjkR
— Jessie Balmert (@jbalmert) June 24, 2021
But some watchers believe hands might be forced.
“There’s a lot going on here,” one source told Sports Handle, noting the House and Senate are at loggerheads over the Ohio budget bill, which must be passed by June 30.
And that’s how the sausage gets made. Stay tuned.
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