No Progress Reported on Ohio Legal Sports Betting Bills

The conversation surrounding legalizing sports betting in the state of Ohio has lingered for over one year; little is also being done to advance it. The commitment of lawmakers towards legal wagering is undoubted even as passing the bill is still being stalled.

On Wednesday, Senator John Eklund spoke at a Senate Committee meeting, pointing out that the sports betting legislation in Ohio could become a standard for this type of legislation in the United States. “There are many shared premises and shared objectives among all the parties involved, and we are listening and formulating refinements,” Eklund said.

No definite steps were taken to advance the bill on Wednesday. However, Eklund, who is a sponsor of the bill explained the process and is positive about the outcome of future meetings. He said that there would be more hearings in the not too distant future right after the conclusion of the bill’s third hearing.

Before it can pass into law, identical versions of the legislation will have to be passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives.

The hearing on Wednesday was somewhat strange as the committee members discussed the bill for about 10 minutes only. Sports betting operators like FanDuel, Boyd Gaming, DraftKings, MGM, Penn National, and Jack Entertainment all filed letters to support the bill. No opposition filed testimony before the hearing.

The Vice President of Jack Entertainment, Adam Suliman, who was present to testify before the committee and whose company operates two casinos in Ohio, said that his company is excited for legal sports betting potential.

Questions surrounding factors that are stalling the legislation remain unanswered. In what could be one of the largest markets in the country, gaming stakeholders have pledged their support for sports betting legislation. Hence, the reason for the delay remains unclear.

Is the Senate to Blame?

All indicators point to the Senate being the cause of the delay as the Ohio state House overwhelmingly approved a sports betting bill in May. Progress has been very slow in the Senate as it is yet to take up the House’s bill or even attend to the Senate-introduced version discussed on Wednesday for less than ten minutes.

Consensus regarding regulatory control and operator access are areas that lawmakers have not been able to agree on, even as most elected officials are backing legal wagering. The Senate version of the bill wants the Ohio Casino Control Commission to oversee and regulate wagering why the House calls for the Ohio Lottery Commission to take charge.

Lawmakers have also not been able to agree on the number of licenses to be given out and what entities will be permitted. Details on how online operators will enter the market and how many will be able to become affiliates with land-based gaming establishments are unclear. Racinos, on the other hand, will likely be permitted to open sportsbooks.

In mature markets, online betting makes up about 80% of the betting handle. 98% of Colorado’s betting handle for September was by online wagering. The progress of the bill come 2021 is dicey as two of its primary supporters will not return for the 2021 session.

Senator Sean O’Brien will be unavailable because he lost his 2020 race while Eklund’s term is up. In the House, one of the bill’s primary sponsors – Rep. Dave Greenspan – will also be unavailable as he lost his 2020 race, leaving Rep. Brigid Kelly as the only sponsor that will be returning to Columbus in 2021.

Sports Betting Background in the Buckeye State

The list of US Midwestern states without legal online and retail wagering is dwindling. However, Ohio will enter the next year on that list. All of Ohio’s neighbors have legalized online sports betting. Pennsylvania and West Virginia were among the first states that approved statewide sports betting.

The lawmakers are committed to moving forward with the bill even though it might not be a possibility this year. The process might be a tad difficult because these legislative efforts might be overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the emerging budget deficit in the statehouse come 2021.

Perhaps, they will see it as a way to generate more revenue following the looming budget deficit and acted upon it with a bit more haste.

In other states, the rule-making and regulatory review process take between three to twelve months. If action is further delayed, the whole process might be completed during the second half of 2021 or sometime in 2022. An outcome such as this will mean that Ohio sports bettors will still not be able to place legal wagers in their home state anytime soon.


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