Ohio Still Dragging its Feet on Legal Sports Betting

Ohio Still Dragging its Feet on Legal Sports Betting
Closed betting windows. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP

The subject of legal sports betting in the state of Ohio has experienced a difficult and sometimes frustrating road. Now comes the realization that potential legal sports betting legislation, as it stands right now in Bills SB 111 and HB 194 have a shelf-life that will expire at the end of the year.

Sponsor Senator John Eklund is the only legislative advocate in Ohio that survived the November 3 Election. The new makeup of the Ohio legislative assembly will have a couple of pro-sports betting holes in it. Co-sponsors Senator Sean O’Brien and Rep. Dave Greenspan both lost their bid for another term serving Ohio, ultimately forging ahead with their well-laid-out sports betting plan.

The General Government and Agency Review Committee did meet last week to discuss SB 111 but convened after just 10 minutes.

What’s at Stake for Ohio

Ohio could be poised to join the “bet-friendly Heavyweights” if they could just legalize their own platform. Ohio is the seventh most populated state in the US with 11.54 million residents and is home is one of the most decorated NCAA sports programs in the nation, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals of the NFL, the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds of MLB, the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA and Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL.

There are already 11 casinos and racetracks operating in the state that are backed by some of the biggest names in the legal sports betting business – Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and Penn National Gaming to name 3.

Research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming points to a rabid sports fanbase and predicts a “hypercompetitive online sports betting market that we estimate will generate GGR [Gross Gaming Revenue] of $607 million once mature”. The research firm went on to say: “We estimate that Ohio is the sixth-ranked U.S. state in terms of sports fandom, and the seventh-ranked state in terms of college football fandom”.

There is a lot on the line for Ohio, a state that continues to bleed sports betting dollars to neighboring Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia.

Optimism Despite the Pessimism

Despite only having 10 minutes to further the discussion on legal sports betting in Ohio, some lawmakers are still striking an optimistic tone.

“All I can say at this time is more to follow,” Senator John Eklund said. “We welcome the opportunity to have another hearing at this point, Chairman, because there are some folks, I think, some of whom have been participants in this exercise we’ve been on for the last, boy, going on 14 months, who have some very, very significant and useful things for the committee to hear.”

“We have been working assiduously, as my joint sponsor has said,” Ohio State Senator Sean O’Brien commented. “[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.”

Support From the Gaming Industry

As mentioned, some of the big names in the US legal sports betting industry already have a presence in Ohio. They along with some other big players such as the two DFS behemoths and individual pro sports teams in the state are urging legalization for Ohio.

All providers canvassed showed support for the industry-friendly 8% tax rate and Ohio’s the openness to mobile as well as retail platforms.

In the most recent edition of its bi-weekly EKG Line report put out by Eilers & Krejcik said “Ohio is contemplating an 8% tax on revenue. That rate, which is lower than any other operational state of its size, should result in one of the country’s most aggressive advertising and promotional environments”.

Rick Limardo of MGM recently commented on the latest iteration of a potential draft-legislation saying that: “The most recent version by the sponsors reflects feedback from all sides and is in line with many of the other successful sports betting regimes already implemented across the country, including the states surrounding Ohio,”

It’s All Up to the Lawmakers Now

While the 2020 boat may have sailed on legal sports betting in Ohio, early-2021, after the dust is settled on the 2020 Election and once COVID is hopefully somehow getting under control, the ability to legally wager on your favorite sports team may become a priority again for Ohio lawmakers.

Urgency is only growing, patience is wearing thinner and surrounding states are only gaining more gambling dollars from Ohio residents. It’s all up to the Lawmakers now to make something happen, and quickly.