Ohio sports betting bill seeks to regain momentum

Ohio sports betting sponsors hope to regain momentum on a long-standing legalization proposal as time continues to flow for the state’s 2021 legislative session.

The Ohio Senate, which has already passed a sports betting bill, on Wednesday called a conference committee to help move the proposal forward. Supporters are hopeful that a joint conference committee made up of Senate and House members can finally help pass legislation that has been dragging on for years in the legislature.

Current sports betting legislation is tied to an unrelated veterans identification bill. The Senate, hoping to pass the bill before the self-imposed June 30 deadline, inserted sports betting language into the June 25 identification bill, which had already been passed by the House.

The House unanimously rejected the sports betting provisions of the Identification Law on June 29, meaning it could not be enacted. Lawmakers took a summer recess from July, delaying further action on the bill until the 2021 session resumes earlier this month.

The legalization of sports betting in general enjoys bipartite and bicameral support as well as support from state casinos and professional sports organizations. Lawmakers are still grappling with licensing, among other key decisions, which stalled the current bill and derailed previous legalization efforts in previous legislative sessions.

This year’s session is due to expire in December. Lawmakers are currently only scheduled to meet in plenary no more than twice a week for the rest of the year, leaving less time to pass a bill.

A conference committee could be a key step in rectifying the legislative deadlock. Industry watchers, as well as lawmakers themselves, were optimistic before Wednesday’s conference committee called for sports betting legislation to be passed this year; the committee could help the bill finally cross the proverbial target line.

“It won’t be easy, but I know we can do it,” Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko told The Action Network in July.

Current invoice details

The legislation has undergone several revisions after months of hearings, further prolonging the legislative process. Lawmakers have attempted to balance the state’s existing physical gaming facilities, professional sports organizations, and hospitality industry stakeholders, all of whom have pushed for access to sports betting licenses.

Current legislation now included in the Voter Identification Bill would allow up to 25 statewide mobile licenses. There could also be as many as 40 statewide retail sportsbooks.

Ohio’s 11 casinos and hybrid horse racing “racinos” could have two skins each. The state’s eight combined NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS franchises could each have an inline skin, as does the PGA Tour and NASCAR, which each host events in Ohio.

Other leagues, including the Women’s Tennis Association, have also sought permission from a sports betting licensee. Hall of Fame Resorts and Entertainment, a listed company based in Canton, is recruiting for its gaming division and would likely pursue access to sports betting in its home state as well.

The current bill also leaves room for entities not affiliated with a casino or a professional sports organization. Lawmakers earlier in the legislative process opened the door for virtually any business in Ohio to license with the bill’s sponsor Senator Nathan Manning, citing Ford Motor Company as an example.

Almost all casinos and sports franchises are reportedly attacking retail licenses as well. Current law allows up to five books to be sold at retail in counties with populations over 800,000; three in counties of 400,000 to 800,000 inhabitants; and a book license in those with at least 100,000 residents.

Lawmakers have also pushed to include access to sports betting for veterans and fraternal organizations as well as some bars and restaurants. These entities could apply for a limited number of betting kiosk licenses.

To note

Ohio’s population and athletic background would make it a major target for the nation’s major sports operators. The best sportsbook, including DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Caesars, and Barstool, all either have an existing affiliate casino in the state or will pursue market access.

PointsBet, TwinSpires, WynnBet and MaximBet, among others, are other participants or businesses that may participate in sports betting or businesses with market access agreements.

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