Ohio Senate Passes Sports Betting Bill

The Ohio Senate has approved legal sports betting, but opponents including small businesses say it shortchanges them in favor of professional leagues including the Cincinnati Bengals (l.).

The Ohio Senate approved legislation June 16 to legalize sports betting. SB 176 creates three license categories:

  • A licenses: for online gaming, with as many as 25, regulated by the Casino Control Commission
  • B licenses: for brick-and-mortar casinos, racinos and other in-person sportsbooks, with as many as 33, also regulated by the commission
  • C licenses: for self-service terminals at bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other liquor permit holders. No more than 20 would be issued and regulated by the Ohio Lottery

The legislation charges a 10 percent tax on net revenue, with 98 percent of tax income funding K-12 public and private education. The remaining 2 percent goes to the Problem Sports Gaming and Addiction Fund, according to Cleveland.com.

“Sports provides that intangible in our society,” said Senator Niraj Antani, a sponsor of the bill. “It’s with your friends, watching the Bengals throw that Hail Mary at the end of the game. Watching the Cavaliers drain that buzzer beater, or watching the Reds, one run down at the bottom of the ninth, with a man on third and the batter with a full count. It’s about rooting for the home team in a very, very divisive time in our society.”

The bill also allows Ohio fraternal and charitable organizations to have up to 10 electronic instant Bingo machines, regulated by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Not everyone is happy with the legislation. But only 20 businesses in the coalition can offer sports betting.

“Right now, 10,700 businesses in all 88 counties have the opportunity to be able to provide this through the lottery,” said Greg Beswick, of the Fair Gaming Coalition of Ohio, which represents the bars, taverns, restaurants, bowling alleys and other businesses that sell Ohio Lottery products. “It’s giving a monopoly to the four entities again, the casinos around the state, instead of cutting it into 10,700 small businesses.”

Brick-and-mortar sportsbooks are limited to counties with a population exceeding 100,000 with no more than three permitted. Opponents also say limitations would allow sports betting in 27 of the 88 counties, according to Statehouse News Bureau.

“Let the casinos and racinos have sports betting. That’s where the large bets can go. But let the 10,700 small businesses that are lottery providers be able to participate at this at the keno kiosks that you see in businesses throughout the state,” Beswick said.

But the concerns go deeper than that. The bill gives pro teams priority for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.

It assigns the 30 total sportsbooks to counties based on population. If professional sports teams in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati all decided to apply for licenses, casinos and racinos in Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton counties would be shut out, according to the Associated Press.

“An artificial cap that locks out gaming companies in the biggest, most populous counties doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Dan Reinhard, a senior vice president for the JACK Cleveland casino. “We know how to do this. This is the business we are in. We’re going to work with all parties to make sure this cap is dealt with.”

Casinos and racinos were excluded from the original Senate legislation and added later.

Curt Steiner, a spokesperson for the pro sports coalition, said members control one retail sportsbook “at or in close proximity to the applicable sports venue.”

Rep. Bill Seitz is less than pleased with the Senate version that would prohibit a sportsbook in a casino or racino in Hamilton County because the two licenses would go to the Reds and Bengals should they apply.