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Ohio Struggling to Get Over Final Legal Sports Betting Hurdle

The "For the Love, For the Land" sign can be seen in downtown Cleveland outside of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Lauren Bacho / Getty Images via AFP.

The state of Ohio has been on the cusp of a legal sports betting platform seemingly for years but has yet to go live. Week 11 of the NFL season approaches and yet no legal sports bets have been taken in the state.

Still optimistic, lawmakers there have been progressing to some sort of sports betting resolution in Ohio. But it could already be too late for any 2021 launch plans and delays have put the idea of betting on the Super Bowl in jeopardy.

Legislative wrangling has forced regulators to the sidelines, and to look at states around them that have set huge monthly handle records. The bad news is that proposed language for the conference committee that will decide on sports betting’s fate in the state hasn’t even been finalized. The good news is that the Ohio state legislature can run through Dec. 31 if need be.

Ohio is poised to be one of the biggest markets in the U.S. in terms of population with 11.7 million residents (seventh-largest in the country). The state is also home to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, MLB’s Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, and numerous high-level college sports programs.

Not there yet

Ohio senator Kirk Schuring, the biggest cheerleader of legal sports betting for the Buckeye State, expressed some frustration with the process of legalization this week, although he still struck an optimistic tone.

“We made more progress last week and we’re still working on a compromise to get us where we need to be to pass the conference report,” Schuring said in an interview. “We actually are at the stage now where we’re asking for the legislative service commission to draft language so others can look at it as we, you know, try to negotiate; others can look at it and read it the way it will look when it becomes law, so, we’re making progress.”

But with the optimism came the realization that there are some roadblocks still hindering the full passage of language with regard to a legal sports betting platform for his state.

More on those roadblocks

Just how the online portion of the sports betting platform looks in Ohio is still up for major debate. The Senate sees it one way and the House sees it slightly differently.

“When it comes to the operation, the mechanical stuff, I think we’re in general agreement but there are some things we have to work out as far as these online applications,” said Schuring. “But I think we can get there, I really do. I don’t think it’s something that is impossible. I think we will get there.”

Another issue surrounds control of the imminent sports betting platform in the state. Will it be the Casino Control Commission of Ohio or the Ohio Lottery Commission that regulates what has the potential to be a massive sports betting scene? Until that question is answered, the platform goes nowhere and sports bettors in Ohio are stuck waiting on lawmakers to just make that decision.

What the platform will eventually look like

A lot of the heavy lifting for an Ohio legal sports betting platform has already been done. According to the Senate proposal, which has already passed and is waiting on the House to finalize, there will be 25 mobile licenses available. Sports teams would be limited to one skin while others could launch two.

A total of 40 retail licenses will be available in Ohio and another 20 will be up for grabs for a more limited platform which includes kiosks from the state lottery.

The tax rate, under the Senate proposal has been set at 10 percent.

In the end …

Ohio sports bettors and potential providers have seen this movie before in the state. A major push to legalize sports betting in Ohio was made late last year before the idea ultimately stalled out in the legislature.

A resolution for 2021 looks out of reach for any sort of legal sports betting launch in Ohio as a mandated 90-day waiting period will have to take place after governor Mike DeWine signs a bill into law. At present, there is no bill on his desk.

The NFL playoffs are a possibility and hopes are that the Ohio lawmakers can get their act together before the Super Bowl and March Madness. Until that time, Ohio sports bettors will be forced to drive across state lines and spend their hard-earned money with neighboring jurisdictions.