On Wednesday in Columbus, policymakers in the Ohio Senate met briefly to give an update on the state’s sports wagering plans, which have now dragged on for well over a year.
The bill in question, SB 111, basically had a status hearing in front of the Ohio Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee. Earlier this year, the House version of the sports wagering plan, HB 194, cleared that chamber by an 83-10 vote, putting the ball in the Senate’s court.
In addition to backing by the House, legislation to legalize sports wagering has the support of the office of budget management, the lieutenant governor, and the treasurer of state. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has also publicly supported the concept of legalizing sports gambling, but he has tried to remain relatively neutral to the competing bills. He has, though, dropped hints he prefers the Senate version.
Additionally, none of Ohio’s casino gambling operators have said they want the Senate measure defeated. Many of them have backed the Senate bill, which is the more favorable proposal to their interests.
The committee is expected to vote on the bill the week after Thanksgiving.
The Ohio legislature is in session until the very end of the year, but if legislation does not reach DeWine’s desk this year the whole legislative process will need to start over, as the sports betting legislation on the table right now cannot be carried over into 2021.
Sen. Eklund mum about status of legislation
Sen. John Eklund, the Republican co-sponsor of the Senate version, did not reveal much Wednesday about where the negotiations are between himself and his colleagues, notably the House policymakers who passed a similar but distinctly different bill.
The main difference between Eklund’s bill and the House proposal comes down to who is the chief regulator of Ohio sports betting. The House bill called for the Ohio Lottery Commission to act as the top regulator, but the Senate version puts that in the hands of the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The House sponsors of the proposal months ago agreed that the OCCC should be the regulator.
“This is, at times, a complicated subject matter,” Eklund said at the hearing, “but I must say the input we received from all corners has been expertized, excellent, and constructive. I can’t help but believe that many, many shared premises and shared objectives [exist] among all the parties involved. We have been listening and formulating refinements, I will call them, to help make this bill … the model, the paradigm for this type of legislation in the United States. We are well on our way to doing that. We will hopefully be a position in the not-to-distant future to make a more thorough report on the fruits of those labors, and I believe you will find those fruits to be quite sweet and firm. That’s all I can say at this time.”
It’s unclear how Ohio could be a model for sports betting considering more than 20 states have already approved it and are in the midst of highly successful industries.
While complicated, Ohio sports betting legalization is far from controversial, so it’s unclear why Eklund was so vague. Four of Ohio’s five neighbors have legal sports wagering, and there is no disagreement in Ohio that the state would approve online/mobile applications along with retail sportsbooks.
There also appears to be no current disagreement that remote registration and wagering on in-state collegiate teams would be allowed.
Other items are yet to be decided, including a tax rate, the number of sports betting brands (skins) a casino or racino could use, and whether Ohio will require any use of “official league data.” However, those are relatively low hurdles to clear.
Ohio lawmakers are currently discussing whether to give two or three skins to each property. The state has 11 gambling facilities that would be eligible for a sports betting license, so the difference is between 22 and 33 available skins. It’s not a particularly pressing matter considering that Indiana, for example, has only seen 10 online/mobile brands enter its market despite allowing every casino to have three skins.
A subtext to the process is that sports betting has been linked to an alleged corruption scheme in the House involving former speaker Larry Householder. None of the lawmakers behind the sports betting efforts have been accused of any wrongdoing, but it’s unclear if the corruption case is pouring cold water on Ohio’s efforts.
A pair of Cincinnati elected officials were recently indicted by the feds for corruption, which allegedly involved efforts to bring retail sports betting to a former mall in the Queen City. The situation was not brought up during Wednesday’s Senate committee hearing.