Ohio lawmakers are considering bills to authorize statewide mobile sports betting and retail sportsbooks at casinos. There are no guarantees Ohio sports betting legislation will be passed this year, but current efforts do appear to have momentum behind them.

Bills introduced in 2019 and carried over into 2020 aim to legalize sports betting. According to local reports, lawmakers in each chamber are now negotiating how to unify two similar but competing visions for regulating the industry. These visions consist of one bill working its way through the House and another working its way through the Senate.

Whether or not sports betting is legalized in Ohio anytime soon, daily fantasy sports are legal under state law and serve as the next closest alternative to full-on sports betting. Online horse racing betting is also tolerated in Ohio, although state law does not directly address the legality of such.

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Ohio Sports Betting Updates

Ohio appears to be on the path to legalizing sports betting now that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is no longer an obstacle and legislators in both chambers are seriously considering how to proceed with legislation.

Lawmakers first signaled their intention to pursue legal sports betting in July 2018 with a simple bill sponsored by Senators John Eklund and Sean O’Brien. The full text of SB 316 simply reads:

Section 1. It is the intent of the General Assembly to develop and enact legislation legalizing sports wagering.

Additional legislation introduced in 2019 and again in 2020 provided the first detailed look at what lawmakers have in mind for Ohio sports betting.

House Bill 194 seeks to legalize sports betting and place it under the control of the Ohio Lottery Commission. If passed, HB 194 would allow mobile betting and retail sportsbooks at casinos and racetracks. HB 194 would allow wagers on pro and college sports, set a minimum age of 21 and calls for a 10% tax on revenue.

Senate Bill 111 seeks to legalize mobile betting and retail sportsbooks run by casinos and racetracks as well but would give oversight powers to the Ohio Casino Control Commission. SB 111 would allow wagers on pro, college, Olympic and international sports, set a minimum age of 21 to bet and establish a 6.25% tax.

Both bills are still under consideration as of this writing and the next step is for lawmakers in both chambers to settle on a single vision for how sports betting will be regulated.

According to Chris Krafcik of Eilers & Krejcik, lawmakers are coming close to striking a compromise on the tax rate, licensing fees and on permitting each casino or racetrack to operate up to three individual online betting brands.

One point of contention that remains unresolved is who will regulate sports betting in Ohio. The House version seeks to give regulatory oversight to the Lottery Commission while the Senate version would give that power to the Casino Control Commission.

With all that in mind, the odds of Ohio successfully passing a bill in the near future remain uncertain at this time. BettingUSA will be monitoring developments in Ohio and providing updates here.

 Although no legislation has yet been passed, sportsbook operators are watching Ohio closely and forming plans to enter the market if sports betting is legalized. Unibet, for example, already has a partnership agreement with Argosy Casino Alton to offer sports betting in Ohio pending the passage of legislation.

Ohio Daily Fantasy Sports

Online fantasy sports betting is legal in Ohio courtesy of legislation signed into law by Governor John Kasich in December of 2017. House Bill 132 formally legalized fantasy sports betting and established a variety of consumer protection measures designed to keep customers’ funds safe, ensure fair games and provide resources to address problem gambling.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission approved additional regulations in 2019 to prohibit auto-drafting (lineup picks created on behalf of a user) and a ban proposition-style fantasy contests such as those offered by Monkey Knife Fight. Commission Jessica Franks told the Columbus Dispatch both rules are intended to prevent fantasy contests from falling too far into illegal gambling territory.

Some of the key regulations governing fantasy sports in Ohio include:

  • Minimum age of 18 to play
  • Fantasy operators must keep player funds segregated from operational funds
  • Prohibiting participation among people who could have a conflict of interest (such as athletes and officials involved in sporting events that are the subject of a fantasy contest)
  • Fantasy operators must maintain voluntary self-exclusion programs
  • Auto-drafting prohibited
  • Proposition-style fantasy contests prohibited

Ohio law requires fantasy sites to be licensed by the state at a cost of $3,000 to $30,000 per year based on the number of customers they have in Ohio, but no additional taxes are levied on the industry. With reasonable licensing fees and no special taxes for DFS operators, Ohio is an attractive market and is home to plenty of options when it comes to finding a place to play.

For years prior to the enactment of this law, fantasy sites operated freely throughout Ohio in an uncertain legal climate. Existing law at the time outlawed online gambling, but fantasy sports were able to operate in Ohio thanks to a federal law called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 which specifically exempted fantasy sports from being classified as gambling.

However, state law was not as clear and therefore left the sites operating in questionable legal territory and not subject to regulation. This is why lawmakers finally opted to pass a law to formally legalize online fantasy sports and regulate the industry.

Before the 2017 law was enacted, Ohio lawmakers made several attempts to introduce legislation governing fantasy sports in Ohio over the past couple years but with little success until 2017. A bill concerning fantasy sports was introduced in 2016, but it lost steam and died out before making it very far through the legislature.

Horse Racing Betting in Ohio

Horse racing betting is permitted in Ohio both online and at any of the state’s seven horse racing tracks and one off-track betting (OTB) location. A law passed in 2011 allowed tracks to install video-lottery terminals (VLTs) which are similar to slot machines. Today, fans may visit any racetrack to watch and bet on live horse races.

The Ohio State Racing Commission oversees all horse racing and parimutuel wagering within the state. The commission’s mission statement is to protect, preserve and promote horse racing in Ohio.

VLTs in Ohio are managed and licensed by the Ohio lottery. Profits from the machines are split roughly 50/50 between the track and the Ohio lottery. Each track is required to donate half of one percent of its net win from VLTs to problem gambling services.

Online Horse Racing Betting in OH

Ohio law does not directly address advance deposit wagering (ADW), but numerous racing betting sites operate openly in the state. To date, state authorities have declined to take action against online racing betting sites, seemingly content to allow them to offer their services despite the lack of legal clarity.

The State Racing Commission has promulgated rules governing telephone betting, which serves as an extension of ADW. In 1995, the Ohio Attorney General opined that the Racing Commission does not have the authority to authorize advance deposit wagering and that it should revoke its authorization of telephone betting.

However, the office of the Attorney General issued contradictory guidance in 2000 when it stated advance deposit wagering does indeed fall within the purview of the Racing Commission. The legality of advance deposit wagering remains unclear, but most mainstream horse racing betting sites accept customers from Ohio to this day.

Mahoning Valley Race Course

Thoroughbred racing and simulcast events 365 days a year

850 VLTs with plans to expand to 1500

655 N Canfield Niles Road
Austintown, OH 44515

Miami Valley

Harness racing and 1600 VLTs

6000 SR 64
Lebanon, OH 45036

Scioto Downs

Harness racing and 2100 VLTs

6000 S High Street
Columbus, OH 43207

JACK Thistledown Racino

Thoroughbred racing and 1150 VLTs

21501 Emery Road
Cleveland, OH 44128

MGM Northfield Park

200+ harness racing events per year and 2250 VLTs

10777 Northfield Road
Northfield, OH 44067

Belterra Park

Thoroughbred racing 100 days a year and 1500 VLTs

6301 Kellogg Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45230

Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway

Live harness racing and simulcast events year-round

1000 VLTs

3100 Needmore Road
Dayton, OH 45414

Cedar Downs OTB

The only off-track wagering location in Ohio

Open seven days a week 12 PM to 12 AM

1935 Cleveland Rd W (US Route 6)
Sandusky, OH 44870

Ohio Online Gambling

Ohio gambling laws are not friendly to online casinos or poker.

ORC § 2915.02 prohibits both the conduct of and participation in unauthorized gambling activities (emphasis ours):

(B) For purposes of division (A)(1) of this section, a person facilitates bookmaking if the person in any way knowingly aids an illegal bookmaking operation, including, without limitation, placing a bet with a person engaged in or facilitating illegal bookmaking. For purposes of division (A)(2) of this section, a person facilitates a game of chance conducted for profit or a scheme of chance if the person in any way knowingly aids in the conduct or operation of any such game or scheme, including, without limitation, playing any such game or scheme.

State law is clear on this matter and can easily be interpreted to apply to online gambling. New legislation would be needed for legal online casinos or poker sites to come to Ohio. Currently, there are no such efforts underway and no indications that lawmakers are interested in passing new legislation to authorize online gambling.

Ohio Lottery

The Ohio Lottery is not sold online at this time but that could change at some point. In recent years, a debate has raged on between lawmakers, retailers and the lottery itself. The lottery would like to keep all options open while a group of House lawmakers and retail associations would like to pass legislation to preemptively ban online sales of lottery tickets forever.

Retailers would like to pass the ban because people who come in to their stores to buy tickets often make other purchases. They worry that if tickets can be bought online, people would have less incentive to visit retailers in person and purchase other things.

The lottery said in 2013 it didn’t have plans to introduce online sales any time soon but that they want “to keep all our options open.” Other states have already started selling tickets online and sales have been promising, but not overwhelming.

Since then, the Ohio Lottery has come to more openly support online sales. In 2019, Lottery Director Pat McDonald told lawmakers it is time for the Ohio Lottery to consider online sales in response to changing consumer preferences:

“By allowing additional methods of purchasing existing content, the lottery can keep up with the way people have become accustomed to buying everything from music and books to their groceries.”