Sports Betting Legalization Gains Momentum in Ohio and Florida
Based on legislative progress over the last month, two of America’s most populous states may be poised to regulate the sports betting industry in 2020.
The Governor of Ohio recently went on record to spur the process, asking lawmakers in the state’s General Assembly to put one of two competing bills on his desk before next year’s elections in November.
And in Florida, one lawmaker introduced a trio of bills which would task the state lottery with regulating legal sports betting.
The two largest states in the U.S. – California (39.7 million residents) and Texas (29.1 million) – have yet to take advantage of 2018’s PASPA repeal of a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada.
But if Florida (3rd / 21.6 million) and Ohio (7th / 11.7 million) join New York (4th / 19.5 million), Pennsylvania (5th / 12.8 million), and Illinois (6th / 12.7 million) in that regard, five of the nation’s seven most populated states will be home to legal sportsbooks.
Ohio Governor Takes Sides but Prefers Any Bill to Ballot Measure
In the Buckeye State, a pair of sports betting bills supported by two opposing camps in the Ohio General Assembly have been at loggerheads over the last year.
Senate Bill 111 – which moved to the committee level for the first time last month after its introduction in March – seeks to assign the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) as chief regulator of legal sports betting in the state.
And with House Bill 194 – which has seen significant committee debate since being introduced in April – lawmakers would opt for the Ohio Lottery Commission (OLC) in terms of regulatory responsibility.
Both bills count key lawmakers in both chambers as supporters, grinding subsequent committee debates to a halt. Fortunately, the current legislative session underway in Ohio spans two years, so the recent gridlock won’t force lawmakers to start over.
Governor Mike Dewine wants local legislators to put aside their differences and move one of the bills to his desk by this time next year. In an interview with Legal Sports Report, Dewine’s press secretary Dan Tierney revealed that the Governor wants lawmakers to guide the nuances of a legal sports betting industry he sees as inevitable:
“He does believe that sports betting is coming and it’s important to do this through the legislative process.
“What we often see in Ohio is third parties with a vested interest putting forward a ballot initiative with sweetheart language or language very beneficial to their industry.
The legislature is in the best position to put forth neutral public policy, so the governor wants the legislature to do it as opposed to someone trying to establish regulations from a ballot process that tends to benefit special interests.”
Using the petition process, any special interest group – such as sportsbooks and other gaming industry stakeholders – can organize to put a ballot measure to voters next November.
Dewine has publicly stated his support for SB-111’s OCCC model, but as Tierney made clear to Legal Sports Report, the Governor remains receptive to any legislative action rather than special interest driven ballot initiatives:
“The governor’s preference for the Casino Control Commission partially is based on the Casino Control Commission being an existing regulatory body that does regulation but does not operate gaming itself.
(But) the governor is still open to see what comes out of the General Assembly.”
Florida Lawmaker Looks to Lead Way in 2020 with Three Bills
And in Florida, state senator Jeff Brandes (R-24) introduced a package of three sports betting bills on November 18.
The highlight of that package is Senate Bill 968, which would authorize the Department of the Lottery to supervise licensing of approved sports betting operators and providers.
To supplement SB-968, SB-972 would require licensed sportsbooks to pay taxes at a rate of 15 percent of gross revenue, while SB-970 would institute a $100,000 licensing fee.
In comments made to Florida Politics, Brandes pointed to the ongoing presence of unregulated offshore sportsbooks as a prime reason to regulate and tax the industry:
“Sports betting is yet another area where we can enhance individual freedom.
In absence of a well-regulated structure, we’ve seen a complex underground industry developed in Florida, potentially breeding habits of addiction, while robbing our government of revenue that should be collected and remitted for education.
This legislation creates a legal framework in which Floridians can choose how to spend their time and money, without worry of being criminalized.”