Take a bow, Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming: Your work here is done, as after over two months of hearings, Wednesday’s midday affair marked the end of the back-and-forth from interested parties concerning the fate of sports betting in Ohio. Next up: The bill.
And “the bill” is expected to drop by the end of April, after the Ohio legislature returns from its two-week Passover and Easter break.
“As I said two weeks ago, and I’ll just remind the committee and the audience, this will conclude our hearings,” said Sen. Kirk Schuring, the chair of the committee. “Doesn’t mean we’re done, because what we’re going to do is we’ve had nine hearings and almost 50 witnesses and I’m going to be working with each individual member, looking for their input and suggestions on how we will build a bill … and I would expect the bill ready to be introduced in the next few weeks, and from there I expect that bill to be referred to this committee and we’ll have more hearings at that time.”
While nothing is a slam dunk when it comes to the legislative process, would-be Ohio bettors have to be buoyed by comments made earlier in March by Gov. Mike DeWine.
“Sports gaming is already in Ohio, Ohio is just not regulating it,” he said in a March 1 press conference. “This is something that I think is inevitable and it’s coming to Ohio. The members of the general assembly are working that process, and I will have the opportunity to see what they come up with and the opportunity to weigh in at the appropriate time, but sports gaming is certainly coming to Ohio.”
Giddy up for sports betting?
Meanwhile, the committee was thrown a bit of a curveball with the second-to-last witness to testify Wednesday, Renee Mancino, the executive director of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association and Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Organization.
During her testimony, she dropped what has to be considered an 80/1 long-shot bombshell: She urged that the Ohio State Racing Commission be put in charge of sports betting.
“The regulation should be conducted by the existing sports wagering regulator, the Ohio State Racing Commission,” Mancino said. “Sports wagering as an expansion of sports betting should go with the existing sports wagering regulator. Sports wagering is not a game of chance; the Ohio constitution permits the lottery to oversee and regulate only games of chance, the Ohio constitution prohibits sports wagering from being categorized as a casino game, and the Ohio Casino Control Commission regulates casino gaming.”
Furthermore, Mancino would like to see one skin per brick-and-mortar venue and a mandate that horse-racing wagering be available both online and in-person — on the same app or same window, respectively, as sports betting.
“An expansion of online and mobile wagering in sports should require operators to offer horse racing alongside any sports wagering offerings as is commonly seen at a race and sportsbook, such as in Las Vegas,” she said. “A system that’s independent and separate as in New Jersey provides patron access to one sport or another. It’s not integrated.”
After Mancino spoke, Dave Basler, from the same group as Mancino, asked the committee to keep horse racing in mind, as adding sports betting to the state’s menu of gambling options will dilute horse racing’s share of the gambling pie.
And with that, Schuring gaveled the hearings into history, thereby setting off the race to get the bill written.
The bill: Who, what, and when
The big question surrounding the as-yet unwritten bill is just who, exactly, will get the opportunity to offer sports betting in Ohio. During the weeks of hearings, the committee heard from three other major would-be stakeholders: Intralot and other groups that want the Ohio lottery to run it, sports team owners, and existing casinos and sportsbooks.
In a nutshell, lottery operators want at least part of the sportsbook pie, existing casinos and sportsbooks want all the sportsbook pie, and Ohio’s professional sports teams want one piece each of the pie.
Additionally, a major piece of the legislation will concern collegiate sports and whether Ohio residents can wager on all of them, none of them, or all except Ohio schools.
In the meantime, at least one of Ohio’s pro sports teams is gearing up for DeWine’s “inevitable” take: The Cleveland Cavaliers announced last week a partnership with Betway, the first of its kind in Ohio.