Eric Schippers made his point loud and clear. Ohio casinos and racinos earned preferred standing in a sports betting model with years of impact in local communities.
Schippers of Penn National Gaming and Rick Limardo of MGM Resorts gave the first casino testimony in the Ohio Senate Select Committee on Gaming since the introduction of S 176.
The Senate sports betting bill creates 20 mobile and 20 retail sports betting licenses. None are required to go to the 11 licensed casinos/racinos in the state.
That doesn’t sit well with the casino executives, who felt the need to re-establish themselves as Ohio businesses.
Ohio casinos/racinos have faced hostility during process
Most states to legalize sports betting do center the activity around the existing casino industry if it exists in the state. Even if a state creates a more inclusive sports betting model, which is the trend this year in states such as Maryland, Arizona, and Louisiana, existing licensed gaming facilities at least get earmarked a license.
But Ohio has a unique casino model. In most states, the legislature authorized the construction of commercial casinos. Unable to gain traction for casino legalization in the Ohio legislature, Penn National backed a 2009 ballot measure amending the state constitution to allow for four casinos.
Lawmakers felt they were side-stepped. Recent comments show they haven’t forgotten. In introducing the bill, committee chair Kirk Schuring said:
“We’re not going to prescribe into law any special considerations for companies or entities … some of them who years ago went to the ballot and enshrined into our constitution special privileges. We’ll work with them, but they’re going to have to compete in the marketplace.”
In asking for sports betting through lottery kiosks at a previous committee hearing, David Corey of the Bowling Centers Association of Ohio advocated for the committee to support local businesses. He added, “We do not believe that Ohio should continue to give out-of-state operators yet another monopoly.”
Ohio casinos make the case as local businesses
That background sets the stage for Schipper’s speech to the committee Wednesday.
He described Penn National Gaming’s economic and charitable impact in Ohio:
- Employs nearly 2,000 Ohioans.
- Over the past four years, including last year’s pandemic-impacted year, paid more than $307 million in wages.
- Contributed more than $3.3 to local charities.
- Hosted multiple drive-throughs for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank during the state-ordered closures for COVID-19. They provided approximately 90,000 pounds of food for 1,600 central-Ohio families.
He brought with him two general managers from PNG’s four Ohio properties.
“In short, while our parent company may be headquartered in Pennsylvania, our four properties, their local management teams and their valuable team members have been outstanding corporate citizens in their communities,” Schippers said. “These are Ohio businesses, and they’re proud of it.”
Limardo added that MGM Northfield Park employed nearly 1,000 Ohioans and generated more than $92 million in tax revenue prior to COVID-19.
All of it was meant to say, “We are Ohio casinos and we should be treated as such.”
Bill suggestions from Ohio casinos
Schippers and Limardo made the following suggestions of amendments to the sports betting substitute bill:
- Tether sports betting licenses to existing licensed gaming operators who have invested billions in economic development in Ohio.
- Remove a clause that eliminates tax-free promotional credits for casinos.
- Add restrictions on eBingo machines for veteran and fraternal organizations so that they don’t end up simulating slot machines. Limit the number of machines permitted at each establishment, wager, and payout amounts.
The casino/racino operators also stressed that they have well-established compliance and responsible gaming protocols. Schippers warned that allowing outside companies into online sports betting could weaken integrity standards for Ohio sports betting.
He referenced a recent case in Tennessee, the only other state that allows unlimited untethered licenses. Facing accusations of money laundering, proxy betting, and credit card fraud, an online sports betting operator had its license suspended for the first time in the US.
Last week, sports teams asked for the 20 online and 20 retail licenses to go to the 11 casinos/racinos and nine professional sports entities in Ohio. The casino operators did not mention sports teams.
Sports teams also asked for online sports betting licensees to be limited to one skin each. Casinos did not comment on skins, which are unlimited in the current bill.
Other topics in committee meeting this week
David Dodd of iDEA Growth and Andrew Herf of the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association added testimony Wednesday.
Dodd mostly praised the bill, adding a few suggestions. He asked for more clarity on language for the Casino Control Commission to shut down betting on an event. He also wants licenses for data suppliers and clarification on acceptable placement of servers for Type A licenses.
Dodd then went out on a limb and asked the committee to include online casinos in this bill or another. Three neighboring states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and West Virginia, allow iGaming.
Herf repeated lottery retailer concerns from last week regarding the fixed sports lottery offering in the bill. Rather than a sports pool, he asked for lottery retailers to get a traditional game model using betting lines to make the wagering even.
A private citizen, Richard Pijper, expressed to the committee that he wants to bet on sports in Ohio prior to the start of the NFL and college football seasons. Lawmakers previously set a June 30 target date to pass the bill.
Sen. Niraj Antani, a sponsor of the bill, invited the Vietnam War veteran to join him in placing one of the first legal wagers in Ohio.