Ohio Gambling Industry Stakeholders Push For Legal Online Casinos

Written By TJ McBride on April 18, 2024
Ohio online casinos testimony

As lawmakers continue flirting with the idea of Ohio online casinos in the wake of the massively successful Ohio sports betting market, more input and education are needed.

To that end, the Ohio Study Commission began receiving testimony from those with a stake in the future of gaming in the Buckeye State.

Over 15 groups responded in a plethora of ways. Some submitted requests to streamline responsible gambling resources. Others spoke in favor of adding table games to Ohio racinos. Online casinos, meanwhile, were the most-discussed topic.

16 groups submitted written testimony about the future of Ohio gaming, including online casinos 

A total of sixteen different groups submitted testimony related to the future of gaming in Ohio. While not all related to Ohio online casinos, many did.

PENN Entertainment submitted one such testimony, written by PENN Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations Jeff Morris. In clear support of Ohio iGaming, the letter read:

“Like others in the industry, PENN supports the legalization of internet gaming as a key catalyst for growth, as it can be complementary to existing brick and mortar business and drive gaming and associated tax revenue. As you are aware, the border states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia allow for iGaming, and we are proud to offer our online Hollywood Casino products in these states. Coupled with our existing casino properties and ESPN BET sports betting app, the inclusion of iGaming in these states has resulted in PENN becoming a best-in-class omni-channel provider of entertainment to these constituencies.”

MGM Resorts, which operates MGM Northfield Park Casino and is an online casino operator in other markets, naturally supported iGaming expansion in Ohio as well. The company made that clear in its testimony written by Rick Limardo, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for MGM Resorts International.

“I would also like to express our support for iGaming. Based on our operational experience in New Jersey and Michigan, where iGaming is offered, we have observed that there are complementary synergies between our retail casino properties and iGaming. These synergies have not only enhanced the customer experience, but have also contributed to the growth of our business in both areas.”

JACK Entertainment opposes online casino legalization

On the other side of the argument was JACK Entertainment, which owns JACK Cleveland Casino and JACK Thistledown Racino. Its testimony, written by Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Daniel Reinhard, made the brand’s opposition to online casinos clear, saying:

“iGaming as presented to this Commission will not bolster Ohio’s gaming climate or benefit Ohioans. The proposal is flawed under the Ohio Constitution and Ohio court decisions. Ohioans can observe their local malls to understand the impact that iGaming will have on local economies. Just like online retail has decimated local retail, iGaming will do the same under any logical scenario. iGaming will damage Ohio businesses and cost Ohio jobs leading to diminished capital investment and degradation of Ohio’s existing tax base.”

JACK points to the cannibalization of retail casinos and the gaming economy as its largest worry. Still, it also stated that iGaming would have to be tethered to existing casinos to be legal. Ohio casino legislation allowed for casinos only in four predetermined cities: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

“Because of these reasons, it is unequivocally clear that iGaming can only be conducted by the four licensed casinos in Ohio.”

iDEA Growth highlights brick-and-mortar benefits of online casinos

Other groups, however, do not buy into the notion that iGaming is inevitably going to eat away at retail casino alternatives. Prior to this recent wave of testimonies, multiple interested parties submitted testimony during a Feb. 20 public hearing. One such brand was iDEA Growth, a lobbying firm specializing in online gaming. Its letter claimed that online casinos are typically beneficial to brick-and-mortar options, noting:

“We believe that (online casinos are) highly complementary to our existing land-based operations, and an opportunity to engage our customers while they are not physically at our properties. We have seen benefits with customer acquisition, retention and marketing from our Stardust iGaming platform in Pennsylvania, where we also operate our Valley Forge Casino near Philadelphia.”

The simple fact is that anyone who might lose out on patronage through the legalization of Ohio online casinos will be opposed. Established online casino operators and legislators looking to add additional tax revenue will be in favor of iGaming.

How big could an Ohio online casino market be? 

This ongoing Ohio online casino discussion will continue, as Ohio is the sixth-largest gambling market in the country without online casinos. Adding iGaming options could catapult Ohio into the top five gambling states nationwide.

It can be hard to nail down how much extra revenue could be generated in Ohio, but a good place to start is comparing to other states that have legalized online casinos.

West Virginia is close by, but much smaller as a gambling market. Despite that, operators generated $157.2 million in revenue in 2023.

Michigan is a better comparison in terms of gambling market size, which is music to the ears of those in favor of Ohio online casinos. Michigan actually passed New Jersey in 2023 for the largest online casino market in the country with $1.92 billion in revenue.

Another similarly sized market is Pennsylvania, generating $1.74 billion in revenue.

With revenue figures like that, it’s easy to see why this is a hot topic.

Ohio legislators likely won’t pursue online casino legalization this year 

Despite the highly active debate surrounding Ohio online casinos, no legislation is expected to be filed this year. Instead, lawmakers are using this time to educate voters and other legislators on the merits and concerns of online casinos.

State Rep. Jay Edwards told PlayUSA earlier this year that the goal is to open a conversation about iGaming and help educate all who need more information.

“What we’re trying to do is start the conversation, get best practices, educate members and allow regulators some input on the process so that when we are ready, we can start to implement that.”

These submitted testimonies are just a stepping stone toward an Ohio online casino bill being filed in the future.

Photo by Dreamstime / PlayOhio
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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a Denver-based writer and reporter who covers sports betting for PlayOhio. His work has been featured on ESPN, CBS Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report and Yahoo Sports, among others.

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