Gaming Group’s Online Casino Blueprint Could Expedite Ohio Legalization

Written By Mike Breen on March 5, 2024

At its winter meeting, a pro-gaming organization announced its plans to develop a regulatory blueprint for state legislators and gambling regulators to implement online casinos.

Such a framework could potentially help streamline and simplify efforts to pass iGaming legislation in several states believed to be inching toward adding online casinos to their gambling markets.

That includes Ohio, which celebrated its first anniversary of legal sports betting at the start of the year.

Ohio lawmakers haven’t made any real movement on the issue. However, many industry pundits have suggested that Ohio could be one of the next states to begin considering legislation to legalize online casinos.

Online casinos a hot topic at NCLGS winter meeting

Despite Ohio online casinos being illegal, residents can participate in sweepstakes and social casinos online. Customers purchase in-house currency to wager. Bettors can redeem those coins for cash upon withdrawal from the site.

The National Council of Legislators from Gaming States hosts conferences twice a year. They bring together lawmakers, regulators and industry representatives from across the country to discuss various issues related to the gaming industry. Leaders describe the organization as “a non-partisan organization of state legislators focused on sound gambling regulation and policy” on its X (formerly Twitter) profile.

At this year’s winter meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the NCLGS presented panel discussions on several gambling topics. For example, daily fantasy sports, responsible gaming, state lotteries, horse racing, and AI were among the subjects for discussion.

Presenters from Ohio at the conference included Rick Anthony and Andromeda Morrison from the Ohio Casino Control Commission and state representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville).

A major topic of discussion was online casinos, which allow users to play traditional casino games like roulette, blackjack and slot machines on their computers and smartphones. One “committee session” discussed better educating regulators and legislators about iGaming.

The NCLGS also formed a committee of policymakers and regulators to develop a legislative model for state lawmakers to integrate online casinos seamlessly.  NCLGS President (and member of the West Virginia House of Delegates) Shawn Fluharty said legislators should head back home with more than just a souvenir.

“What we want to do at NCLGS is help policymakers and regulators who come to our conferences take something back with them. And what we want them to take back is good policy.”

NCLGS to unveil model iGaming legislation this summer

Fluharty said the plan is to host a committee process to develop the iGaming policy with stakeholders. The committee will receive additional input through public hearings (possibly as early as March) and from the “academic world,” Fluharty said.

Then, the committee would propose the model legislation at the NCLGS’ summer meeting in July. According to a PlayUSA report, Fluharty as saying.

“A lot of states have legalized sports betting and now iGaming is moving front and center as the next wave of gaming legislation. We want to put together recommendations and best practices for legislators to use as a resource when they go back to their states.”

Putting everyone on the same page as to how a legal online casino market would safely and efficiently operate would conceivably help proponents more effectively push legislation forward.

Ohio’s thriving gambling industry sets good precedent for online casinos

Despite the widespread adoption of online sports betting after the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, iGaming legalization has moved slower for several reasons. The NCLGS is working to address these issues.

So far, just six states permit online casinos. Three of those states border Ohio: Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia. That bodes well for the chances of future iGaming legislation in the Buckeye State. One of the arguments that helped push the Ohio General Assembly to pass House Bill 29 (setting the stage for the launch of sports betting statewide) was that Ohio was losing tax revenue to neighboring states that had legalized sports betting.

Ohio is also considered a good candidate for online casino legalization due to the success it has had so far with its gambling offerings. Ohio brick-and-mortar casinos generated over $1 billion in revenue in 2022 and 2023.

Ohio’s sports betting market has also performed well since launching in January 2023, outperforming initial estimates. Total taxable sports betting revenue in 2023 nearly cracked $1 billion.

Ohio’s tight sports betting regulation could be model for iGaming

The OCCC has been praised for keeping the nascent sports betting market running safely and smoothly, which might give the Ohio General Assembly further confidence that online casinos could work similarly in the state.

The OCCC has levied over $1 million in fines on sports betting operators that have run afoul of the state’s regulations, mainly regarding marketing, advertising and user recruitment.

Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed HB 29 in late 2021, has vocally supported the OCCC’s tight regulatory enforcement. DeWine also pushed for doubling the tax rate on Ohio sports betting revenue from 10% to 20%. That change took effect last summer.

Some state lawmakers have said the move was due to DeWine’s unhappiness with what he supposedly saw as an overabundance of sportsbook advertising flooding the market.

Though hiking the tax rate might raise red flags for sportsbook operators – some of which also offer online casino products – there has actually been pushback on the increase from state legislators. In November, state Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) introduced legislation in the Senate that would return the tax rate to 10%.

State Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), an architect of Ohio’s sports betting bill, has also been vocal in his opposition to the rate increase. Seitz has said he feels the Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio, which was established as part of the state’s budget bill passed over the summer, will recommend returning to the 10% tax on sports betting.

Future of Gaming Commission could make recommendations on IGaming in June

The commission includes a mix of legislators and representatives from the OCCC and the state’s lottery and racing commissions. The state tasked it with examining the implementation of sports betting, monitoring all other aspects of Ohio’s gambling market, and presenting its recommendations to the General Assembly no later than June 30.

Coming just before the NCLGS’s summer conference, where its model legislation for online casinos is set to be revealed, there’s a chance the Ohio commission’s June 30 presentation could at least touch on iGaming and get the ball rolling in the state.

In 2020, some lawmakers expressed an interest in considering online casinos in the General Assembly to PlayOhio. They felt, however, that it was more important to first focus on getting a sports betting bill passed. The feeling at the time was that some fellow legislators were having difficulty understanding how online sports betting would work. They needed more time to wrap their heads around the concept of online casinos.

Ohio lawmakers could begin considering iGaming within next few years

The NCLG’s online casino legislation model helps legislation overcome those obstacles. signed to help overcome. It looks to provide a framework that would include educating lawmakers on exactly how iGaming would operate.

With a successful year of sports betting under its belt, Ohio legislators have now seen online gambling run smoothly in the state.

That success, combined with NCLGS’s legislative blueprint, should have the Ohio General Assembly more prepared than ever to begin considering bringing online casinos to the state within the next few years.

Photo by PlayOhio
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen covers Ohio’s budding sports betting industry for PlayOhio, focusing on online sportsbooks and the state’s responsible gambling initiatives. He has over two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture in Ohio.

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