Ohio is finally starting to make legitimate progress on the legalized sports betting front. Surrounded by states that are knee-deep in revenue from taking sports wagers has finally gotten to a boiling point in the Buckeye State and it appears to be only a matter of time until Ohio joins the ranks of the states that have gotten on board in the post-PASPA world.
One bill in the House and one bill in the Senate are being debated and Republican Governor Mike DeWine wants something on his desk sooner rather than later. Ohio has a rather rich sports betting tradition and you can’t throw a rock at an industry gathering without hitting somebody from Ohio, as the business is littered with Ohioans from the professional betting side to the media side and everything in between. The presence of bookies, in particular in the areas of Youngstown and Steubenville, was a familiar sight throughout the second half of the 1900s and recent research has suggested that Ohioans are flocking to neighboring states to bet.
Pennsylvania and Indiana both allow online wagering and many citizens from Ohio’s border towns have hopped in the car to get across the state line and place their wagers. Retail sportsbooks near Ohio, like Rivers and Presque Isle in Pittsburgh, Belterra and French Lick in Indiana, and Mountaineer in West Virginia have seen financial windfalls as a result of Ohioans making the trip.
For the longest time, Ohio was behind the curve in terms of casinos. The state has had horse tracks for quite some time, but the first full-fledged casino did not open until 2011 in Cleveland. Now there are four major casinos and a handful of racinos that only allow slot machines.
The interesting thing about the two bills going through the Ohio Congress is that they are very different. The House bill favors sports betting run by the state lottery, which has a major hand in the video lottery terminals, or VLTs, in the racinos. The Senate bill favors legalized sports betting in the hands of the state’s Casino Commission. That is also the bill that DeWine prefers.
The ramifications of both bills are worth exploring. Sports betting run by the Ohio Lottery Commission would mean betting kiosks in bars, restaurants, and gas stations. Keno has been wildly popular throughout the state since its inception earlier this decade. That would be something of a blueprint for sports betting if overseen by the lottery.
Sports betting from the Casino Commission would open up a lot more operators. It makes sense the DeWine would support a more competitive environment that would create a lot more tax revenue that could be used on pressing matters across the state. The lottery predominantly funds education and problem gambling programs. Giving the Ohio Casino Control Commission the autonomy to run sports betting would allow for a different kind of allocation of resources and would also bring operators like DraftKings, FanDuel, BetRivers, and others into the market.
Most importantly, both bills do include language that would allow for mobile betting. Ohio is a big state and the brick-and-mortar casinos and racinos are close to just about all of the population centers in the state, but online betting has been extremely successful in neighboring states and it would be a huge mistake to pass legislation without online and mobile capabilities.
One last thing that stands out about the bill is that those that prefer the Senate bill have mentioned that the Ohio Casino Control Commission has experience with “skill-based amusement”. Ohio’s reluctance regarding casinos will probably prevent the state from adding an online casino component to legalized sports betting, however, poker has long been viewed as a skill-based game. Perhaps it opens the door for Ohio to get into the online poker industry as well.
In any event, the state of Ohio has inexplicably moved at a glacial pace on sports betting legislation in the past, but the recent figures from Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia seem to have heightened the sense of urgency to a degree. One of the biggest selling points in bringing casinos to Ohio was the loss of money to neighboring states. That seems to be a driving factor behind the increased discussion on sports betting.
Furthermore, with a lot of uncertainty regarding the 2020 election, DeWine wants to get something in place in case there is a lot of turnover in terms of the state’s House of Representatives or Senate.
Or, maybe, just maybe, common sense is starting to prevail. Either way, expect Ohio to be added to the list of states with legalized sports betting very early in 2020.