Lawmakers in Ohio have largely agreed that sports betting legalization is imminent for the Buckeye State, but with a legislative deadline looming, they still remain divided on critical details.
The Ohio Legislature is currently considering two bills which would legalize, regulate, and tax the sports betting industry.
Senate Bill 111 was introduced back in March by a bipartisan pair of co-sponsors in state senators John Eklund (R-18) and Sean O’Brien (D-32). The bill remained idle until last week, when it was referred to the Senate General Government and Agency Review Committee and scheduled for a first hearing held on October 29.
Ohio’s legislative session concludes in mid-December, giving lawmakers a short runway to work with in terms of study, amendment, debate, and passage.
House Bill 194 was introduced in similarly bipartisan fashion one month later by state representatives Brigid Kelly (D-31) and Dave Greenspan (R-16). Unlike its counterpart in the Senate, however, HB-194 has been the subject of significant debate during seven hearings within the House Finance Committee.
The most recent of those hearings was held on October 16, when Greek lottery operator Intralot – which runs the Ohio Lottery and 13 other state lottos in the U.S. – sent an emissary to testify on behalf of HB-194 over SB-111.
Who Should be Responsible for Regulatory Oversight?
If passed, SB-111 would assign the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) with regulating and supervising the state’s newly created sports betting industry. HB-194, on the other hand, would task the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC) with regulatory supervision, while assigning the OCCC investigatory powers only.
The distinction between both agencies is crucial to how Ohio’s sports betting operation will eventually be built.
Under the OCCC, only the state’s four full-fledged brick and mortar casinos, along with seven racetrack “racinos,” would be eligible for sportsbook operator licenses. But with the OLC in charge, the casinos and racinos would be joined by traditional retail lottery outlets where Intralot games are sold – including via self-service keno kiosks found on convenience store floors and inside fraternal organization clubhouses.
Senate President Larry Obhof (R-22) has previously gone on record as opposing full-scale sports betting in retail locations, telling the Columbus Dispatch in June that his chamber would apply the same level of scrutiny previously levied at internet sweepstakes cafés:
“The Senate was not supportive of having a significant expansion of gaming all across the state.
I’m on safe ground predicting that would still be the opinion of the majority of my caucus today.”
With the Senate seemingly intent on blocking widespread retail access to sports betting, the long-awaited assignment of SB-111 to a committee likely signals the chamber’s intention to support a casino-only model.
For its part, Intralot sent product director Scott Hoss to the last House Finance Committee hearing to argue in favor of a lottery-based model which the company claims will deliver four times the annual tax revenue.
Buckeyes Rep Blasts College Betting in Testimony to Lawmakers
Furthering an already complicated legislative debate, the House Finance Committee also heard from Bruce Johnson, who serves as president of the Inner-University Council of Ohio (IUC).
The IUC represents each of the 14 of public universities in Ohio, and per Bruce Johnson’s testimony, school administrators are adamantly opposed to both bills’ legalization of betting on collegiate sports:
“In a nutshell, we oppose gambling on college athletics because it will bring with it the potential to corrupt our students, cost a lot of money to maintain control, and lead to additional cases of problem gambling among our students.
If wagering on collegiate athletics is permitted, it would not take a great leap of logic to conclude the risk of student athletes soliciting and accepting payments in order to influence the outcome of games may increase.”
Ohio State University spokesman Ben Johnson also issued a statement confirming the institution’s blanket opposition to legal college sports betting:
“The Ohio State University is opposed to collegiate sports wagering in the state of Ohio.
Permitting wagering on collegiate sports poses risks of increased incidents of problem gambling and threats to the mental and financial well-being of our student populations and the integrity of university athletic programs.”