Despite a pair of dissenting votes — and with some added dissenting voices — the Ohio Senate passed SB 176, 30-2, paving the way for statewide digital and retail sports betting to come to the state. The next stop for the legislation is the House, which has been silent on the topic thus far this session.
The bill will now be sent to the House, which could amend it, pass it as is, or create its own sports betting proposal. Gov. Mike DeWine has already indicated he’ll sign it. Per the bill, the earliest sports betting operators could go live in Ohio is April 1, 2022.
Speaking on behalf of the bill were the sponsors, Senators Nathan Manning and Niraj Antani.
“I think we came up with a great product and urge support,” Manning said, before giving way to Antani and his colorful ways.
“As we’ve worked on this bill, many people have asked me ‘why? Why do we want sports betting in Ohio? Is it because of the popular demand from the citizenry? Is it because of the positive economic impact it will have? Is it to prevent out-of-state interests from coming into Ohio and buying their way onto the ballot with a more monopolistic version of sports betting?’’ Antani rhetorically asked. “The answer to all of those is yes, but also no … life is about the intangible. Sports provides that intangible in our society. It’s with your friends watching the Bengals throw that Hail Mary at the end of the game. It’s watching the Cavaliers drain that buzzer beater. Or watching the Reds, one run down in the bottom of the ninth with a man on third and the batter with a full count. It’s about rooting for the home team. In a very, very divisive time in our society, sports is one of the few things that unite us.”
"This bill will spur economic opportunities for businesses in Ohio," Antani said. "Ohioans want legalized sports betting, and this bill will provide that with a safe expansion of gaming in our state."
— Tino Bovenzi (@TinoBovenzi) June 16, 2021
Feelings of Kumbaya aside, a pair of senators — Terry Johnson and Bob Peterson — voted no to the bill, and two others voiced serious concerns about how the bill is currently constructed.
The bill, as currently written, allows for 33 Type B licenses, which are brick-and-mortar locations. But there are geographic restrictions based on county population. Counties with a population of under 100,000 would not be eligible for a physical sportsbook; counties between 100,000 and 500,000 people would be allowed a single retail sportsbook; and counties between 500,000 and a million people, would be allowed two brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The two counties with over a million people — where Cincinnati and Cleveland are located — would be allowed up to three physical sportsbooks.
Under the bill, sports franchises that want to get in on the sports betting game will get preferential treatment. In Hamilton County, for instance, if the Reds and Bengals received Type B licenses, then the casinos in the county would be shut out. This issue pops up as well in Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Franklin (Columbus) counties.
“As you know for me it’s all about Cleveland and Cuyahoga County,” said Sen. Sandra Williams. “And Cleveland has three sports teams, and they’re very good. But if each one of those teams applies for the license, then the organizations in my district who do this for a living — Jack’s Casino and Thistledown Racino — won’t have an opportunity to participate in something they do for a living, gaming. So I will support this bill, but I hope you will consider changing the B provision to allow for a few more licenses for those individuals who want to participate in gaming in our communities.”
Williams’ words were echoed by Sen. Kenny Yuko, the minority leader. Yuko’s district includes Columbus, home to the NHL Blue Jackets, MLS Columbus Crew, and Muirfield Village GC, home of the Memorial PGA tour stop.
“It would be like introducing a farming bill, something new to farming, but saying they want to exclude Bob Peterson. Why? He’s been a farmer for a long time. It doesn’t seem right,” Yuko said. “The very same people who brought us so much for Ohio, who shared all that money with 88 counties, who have done so much for our schools, we’re kind of saying that we can’t help you because, as Sandra pointed out, we’re going to have three sports teams to cater to Cleveland’s demands. We’re going to have three sports [sportsbooks] here in Columbus. Cincinnati will get two, the Reds and the Bengals — is that one and a half or two? Sorry — but the bottom line is the very casinos who brought us to having this conversation we’re having today are kind of being forced out. And I’m kind of concerned about it. Can we fix it in the House? I hope so.”
Types A, B, and C
In addition to the 33 brick-and mortar-licenses, there are also 25 Type A licenses up for grabs, which are for online operators. Sports venues/teams, casinos or stand-alone mobile operators, like DraftKings or FanDuel or PointsBet, could apply for these.
On Tuesday, an omnibus amendment was tacked onto the bill allowing for up to 20 Type C licenses. Those would allow kiosks in bars or restaurants, where patrons would be allowed to wager up to $200 a day, limited to spreads, moneylines, and over/unders.
Net revenue on all forms of the licenses would be taxed at 10%, and according to an Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis, and anywhere from $17-$23 million in tax revenue is expected per year.
Next up for the bill is a trip to the House, and from there, the desk of Gov. DeWine.
But even if everything sails through, there still may be hiccups on the horizon, as pointed out in a recent Cincinnati Enquirer article, when one lawyer, Nicholas Pittner, questioned whether the legislature can supersede the state constitution, which bans most forms of gambling.
“These issues will likely fall to the courts to decide,” he wrote in a letter to the legislature.