Ohio lawmakers advanced an online sports betting bill out of the House Thursday, more than a year after the legislation was first introduced.
The bill still needs approval from the Senate as well as the governor’s office before Ohio residents and visitors can place a bet, but Thursday’s 83-10 vote clears a major hurdle that seemed like an insurmountable barrier as recently as a month ago.
If passed as written currently, eligible bettors would be able to place a bet from anywhere within state lines. The mobile access, along with the state’s large population, could allow Ohio to rival Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Nevada among the most lucrative sports betting markets in the country.
Ohio would also fill in another piece of the sports betting puzzle in the Midwest. Along with Pennsylvania, Ohio neighbors West Virginia, Indiana and Michigan all take retail and mobile sports bets.
Details of Sports Betting in Ohio
Ohio lawmakers were among the first to consider sports betting bills after the Supreme Court struck down the federal sports betting ban in May 2018. It would take more than two years for a sports betting bill to pass out of committee.
HB 194 went through nine separate hearings in committee, where it was expanded to include online wagering authorization. At the most recent hearing the bill was amended further to not just permit wagering through the state casinos and casino-race track hybrid “racinos” but also to clarify how betting would be conducted via gaming terminals at certain fraternal and veterans organizations.
Notably, the bill would allow the state’s four brick-and-mortar casinos and its seven racinos to take online bets. Mobile betting makes up close to 90% of handle in mature markets with both retail and online options.
Operators would be taxed at 10% of gross gaming revenue, a benchmark rate championed by industry stakeholders that is slightly below the median average in the more than 20 states that take bets or have passed laws to do so. Two percent of the collected taxes would go to problem gambling programs and the other 98% would go to the Ohio Lottery’s profits fund under the state education department.
The initial $100,000 licensing fee is also in line with median rates, which can range from a few thousand dollars to $10 million in other states.
Differences with Senate Bill
Unlike in other states with straggled sports betting bills, Ohio politicians largely support the idea of regulated sports betting on a bipartisan basis. Aside from advocates for the state’s restaurants and bowling alleys, there’s little opposition to the current list of eligible purveyors.
Instead, the biggest issue in Columbus is sports betting’s regulatory body.
Senate Bill 111 would give the Ohio Casino Control Commission control of sports betting, with proceeds going to the state general fund. It would tax operators at 6.25% gross gaming revenue, rivaling Nevada for the lowest rate in the country.
Gov. Mike DeWine has championed casino commission control, and many industry stakeholders are skittish of lottery oversight after states with lottery-controlled systems have routinely failed to meet revenue projections. The Ohio House bill wouldn’t create a direct or de facto monopoly like in lottery-run states such as New Hampshire, Oregon and Rhode Island, but the industry advocates largely oppose state-run lottery involvement in U.S. sports betting.
The sudden revival of Ohio online sports betting comes as the state faces $775 million in budget reductions brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. Even in a best-case scenario, regulated wagering would only make up a fraction of that deficit; state officials estimate both the House and Senate versions of the bill would generate roughly $20 million by the fiscal year following ratification.
Still, elected officials are now, perhaps more than ever, willing to explore ways to ameliorate financial difficulties. That, along with one of the nation’s handful of year-long state legislature meetings, creates a foundation for sports betting momentum going forward.
With the support of DeWine, a Republican, in the GOP-controlled House, sports betting backers in the legislature know they have a supportive voice at the end of the legislative process. The first-term governor has said publicly he expects a bill to his desk by this fall.
The Senate has been entrenched on its version of the bill for months, meaning the House bill faces resistance in the upper chamber, but at this point, these discrepancies don’t appear too much for lawmakers to overcome – especially in the midst of a budget crisis.
There’s a long way to go before a bill can pass, but after Thursday’s House vote, it doesn’t appear elected officials will wait another year to do so.