Ohio Moves Towards Legal Sports Betting

Ohio has come one step closer to becoming the next state to legalize sports betting. A bill filed last week seeks to legalize in-person and mobile sports betting in the Buckeye state.

Banking on the support of new Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Senators John Eklund and Sean O’Brien introduced Senate Bill 111 on Thursday. SB 111 offers a comprehensive approach to Ohio sports betting, but Senator Eklund says he is open to suggestions on any and all of the proposals found within his bill.

Senate Bill 111 in a Nutshell

Senate Bill 111 would authorize brick-and-mortar casinos to apply for sports betting licenses at a cost of $100,000. Once licensed, casinos would be able to partner with a technology provider to operate retail sports betting in addition to taking wagers online from people inside state lines.

Key points from the bill:

  • Brick-and-mortar casinos and racinos able to apply for sports betting licenses
  • $100,000 licensing fee
  • Licensees will be permitted to partners with operators to offer retail and online wagering.
  • Licensees are limited to one online betting platform
  • College and professional sports betting allowed
  • Customers may sign up for mobile betting accounts remotely (no in-person registration requirement)
  • Tax rate of 6.25% on gross revenue
  • Bill does not mention an integrity fee

Who will Regulate Sports Betting in Ohio?

Senator Eklund told the Cincinnati Enquirer the Ohio Casino Control Mission would be the best fit to regulate the sports wagering industry given its experience regulating land-based casinos in the state.

He also told the Enquirer the Commission “has the expertise to maneuver the nuances of making sure everything’s on the up and up and they have the investigatory and law enforcement experience and authority to make sure it remains on the up and up.”

Keeping Up with Neighboring States

Ohio has jumped on the legal sports betting bandwagon at the last minute. Its neighbors in the region are already ahead of the game and the state needs to move swiftly if it wants to play an active role in the market. Other neighboring states that have already launched sports betting include West Virginia and Pennsylvania while others in the area are also considering legislation of their own.

With so many of its neighbors offering sports betting options, it is clear Ohio has to adopt the widest range of choices for its players. Leaving mobile betting out of the equation would puts Ohio-based operators at a significant disadvantage to those based out of other states.

Ohio lawmakers have only to look over toward New Jersey and see that a whopping 80% of all bets placed in the Garden State last month were made with mobile devices, contributing to the nearly $320 million in handle licensed operators generated last month.

Interestingly, the bill’s co-sponsor, the Republican John Eklund wasn’t always a huge fan of mobile betting. But he soon realized that he needed to change his way of thinking. In an interview with US Bets last month, Eklund said his opinion on mobile betting is “evolving”.

“When I first contemplated the idea, I thought it was kooky, frankly, because I was ignorant, but I am learning more and more that there are many vendors out there who profess to have the means by which to maintain the security in that space, to maintain integrity,” he said. “So I guess I am to the point where now I would say, yeah, I see where that would be something worth considering.”

In August last year, the state started moving towards the sale of mobile lottery tickets, allowing customers to use their mobile phones to enter Powerball and Mega Millions drawings and claiming their winnings.

Ohio Governor Supports Sports Betting

Fellow Republican, Governor Mike DeWine has always publicly supported the idea of legalized sports betting. Last year, he told News 5 Cleveland: “It’s coming to Ohio whether people want it or not.”

The Governor said in the interview that while he isn’t a big fan of betting, it is already a reality in Ohio and other states. Now that sports betting is also part of the gambling landscape, he said it is important that Ohio “does it right”. He promised that, as governor of the state, he will work with the legislature to make sure that the state “can control it” and “make sure we can regulate it”.

“We just need to make sure that it’s done so we control as much as we can,” DeWine said. “Problem gambling, people who have a real problem, we need to be part of helping them but at the same time this gambling is coming to Ohio, it’s coming one way or the other.”

Eklund trusts that DeWine will sign off in support of SB 111, saying he believes that he will be a “careful and thoughtful partner”.

“However nice the concept [of sports betting] is, he’s a smart enough guy to see what comes out of the legislature, and then will determine the extent to which he can fully support it or not,” Eklund told US Bets. “But I’m hopeful that he will.”

Where will the revenue go?

SB 111 spells out the framework of the proposed bill but remains silent on where the money will be spent.

A number of proposals have been heard for the use of the future revenue stream.

One proposal was received from Lt. Gov. Jon Husted who pitched that the money be used to eliminate high school pay-to-participate fees for sports and other extracurricular activities.  At present, nearly 50% of Ohio high schools charge these fees which could amount to several hundred dollars a year.

Husted wants some of the money generated from sports betting to go towards covering these costs for kids from low income families. He has already spoken to DeWine about the idea, saying that it fits in with the Governor’s mission on improving the lives of children in the state.

Partners Circle Ohio Market

Ohio is the seventh most populous state and the tenth most densely populated in the country. That makes for a lot of gambling fans and a potentially robust market. It is no wonder, then, that operators are already starting to circle the market in the hope of grabbing a piece of the pie.

FanDuel counsel Cory Fox told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Ohio is a very attractive market. He pointed out that it is a “good sized state” with “tons of sports fans.”

“We want to be where sports fans are,” he said.