Race Against Time in Ohio

Progress towards legal sports betting in the US state of Ohio has been made, but there remains much to do, and the clock is ticking if legalization is to be achieved this year. 

The issue of sports betting was recently discussed for just 10 minutes by the General Government and Agency Review Committee. But the brevity of the discussion of SB 111 was largely down to the fact that the bill itself is outdated. Instead, sponsors John Eklund and Sean O’Brien have been working on another piece of legislation, HB 194, along with that bill’s sponsors. 

Speaking about the state of legalization, Eklund said that he welcomed the chance to have another hearing and emphasized that there are many participants in the process, which has been going on for around 14 months, who have useful points for the committee. 

Time Running Short

The push for legalization also faces significant time issues. If a bill is not passed before the end of the year, new sponsors will have to be found next year, as O’Brien and co-sponsor Dave Greenspan both lost their re-election contests earlier this month, and Eklund is nearing the end of his term. And the consequences could be significant in terms of lost revenue. 

As it stands, Ohio sports betting customers are already taking their business to neighboring states where sports betting is permitted. Indiana draws a significant number of customers from the Cincinnati market, while Michigan is due to permit mobile betting in 2021. Sports betting is also booming in Pennsylvania, while West Virginia was one of the first states to legalize. 

Room for Optimism

The good news for proponents of sports betting in the state is that one of the leading voices of support, Rep. O’Brien, is optimistic about the chances:

“We’re working across the spectrum and across the board to make sure this, most importantly, that this is not a forbidden fruit. We will bring it soon to fruition.”

There are positive signs, too, in the fact that a large proportion of the testimony that has been submitted for SB 111 is supportive of the work Eklund and O’Brien have done on HB 194. A number of sports betting and casino operators, including industry lobbyist iDEA Growth, Boyd Gaming, MGM Resorts, DraftKings Sportsbook, and FanDuel Sportsbook, have submitted evidence in favor of legalization, focusing on a range of issues, including support for the proposed tax rate and the inclusion of mobile betting and proposals relating to esports betting. 

Speaking about the proposed bills, Rick Limardo, for MGM, said that the latest drafts were in accordance with many successful sports betting regimes in other US states. 

Some Concerns

Praise for the bills has not been universal, however. In their evidence, iDEA Growth expressed their disappointment at the proposed decrease in online skins from three per casino or racino to two. They suggested that three skins would enable Ohio taxpayers to gain the full value of a competitive market, adding that their research suggested the state could support over 30 online sports betting brands, in contrast to the new maximum of 22. 

Other proposals in the latest draft of the bills drew more support, including the proposed tax rate of 8% for Ohio operators and the absence of an official league data mandate, which has been a source of controversy in a number of states where sports betting is legal. 

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