On June 24, Ohio Sen. Kirk Schuring stood on the Senate floor and thanked Senate President Matt Huffman for working with him to negotiate sports betting language with key members of the House.
He explained they had an amendment he thought would finally get sports betting done in Ohio. The Senate attached the amendment to an unrelated bill already passed by the House.
On June 28, the House voted 96-0 against concurrence with Speaker Bob Cupp emphatically announcing the total. Which brought to question with whom in the House did Schuring negotiate? Not one member voted for the bill!
Meet Rep. Bill Seitz.
Two days before he attached sports betting language to HB 29, Schuring went to dinner with Huffman and Seitz. There they worked out language that stands as the starting point for Ohio sports betting negotiations heading into the fall.
Seitz explained how the sports betting bill changes came about in a discussion with PlayOhio.
Introducing Ohio’s House sports betting negotiator
Seitz and Schuring are long-time friends and colleagues. Now the Senate Majority Leader, Schuring served in the House from 1993 to 2002, his first stint in the Senate from 2003 to 2010, and again in the House from 2011 to 2019.
During that period, Schuring and Seitz worked together in leadership roles in the House. Schuring was the Speaker Pro Tempore (and briefly acting Speaker) while Seitz was Majority Floor Leader. Seitz remains Majority Floor Leader, the third-ranking position in the Ohio House.
As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Gaming, Schuring worked for four months to put together SB 176, passed by the Senate on June 16. Hearing negative reactions from many in the House, Schuring reached out to Seitz in a last-ditch attempt to give the House a bill it could pass before recessing June 30.
“The Senate President, who is another dear friend, Kirk and I went out and had dinner two days before the Senate adopted HB 29 and hammered out a number of issues that made folks reluctant to endorse the previous Senate bill passed, SB 176,” Seitz said. “They made a number of compromises and changes, and what they passed in HB 29 for the most part accurately reflects our discussion.”
Over that dinner, the lawmakers made significant changes to the legislation. Seitz served as a loudspeaker for industry concerns that had gone overlooked by the Senate.
“All I did was reflect comments the interested parties had given to me,” Seitz said.
Seitz input fixes big issues with Ohio sports betting bill
The four months working on the bill revealed a bias from Schuring that threatened to derail the efforts.
In 2009, Penn National Gaming and other casino interests side-stepped the legislature to put a constitutional amendment permitting casinos on the ballot. Old-school lawmakers like Schuring who were in office at the time haven’t forgotten.
The original sports betting bill he pushed through in the Senate took this out on casinos. The bill gave sports teams preferred status in the application process and limited brick-and-mortar sportsbooks per county in a way that would shut casinos and racinos out.
“I guess they thought they got it somewhat right in SB 176, but everything I heard on the House side was ‘Oh my God, this isn’t going to work,’” Seitz said. “That’s what led to the renegotiation of certain terms.”
As someone who also opposed the constitutional amendment at the time and felt the casinos were elbowing their way to the front of the line, Seitz was able to relate to Schuring’s concerns but bring perspective to the situation.
“They have been good corporate citizens since that time,” Seitz said. “And while they had a very clever constitutional amendment, they forgot that we have a commercial activities tax in Ohio. That meant every bet laid down at a casino, we could take one-quarter of one percent. We ended up negotiating a settlement where they pay the state a humongous amount of money.”
Seitz convinced Schuring and Huffman to increase the county limits and give the same preferential standing to casinos/racinos as sports teams. The changes brought the support of casinos, and presumably, all the representatives whose districts include the 11 casinos/racinos.
So why couldn’t Seitz rally support in the House?
When Schuring announced the changes he negotiated with a member of House leadership on the Senate floor, he obviously hoped that Seitz could get the House to agree before the legislature recessed days later.
Seitz said he told Cupp of the positive changes, but the Speaker just wasn’t willing to move a bill that the House hadn’t vetted.
“The problem is the Ohio House has not had hearings on sports betting legislation this year, and so our Speaker feels we need a little bit of time to get comfortable with what the Senate has done with their amendments, Seitz said. “I understand his perspective that we have 199 members in the House and they need more than 24 hours to digest what we were doing.”
Time to conference on sportsbooks
The House vote of nonconcurrence sets up a conference committee with three members from each chamber working on the bill.
Legislative leaders have yet to name the conferees. It figures that Schuring, Nathan Manning and Niraj Antani negotiate for the Senate. They led the formation of the bill in the select committee. Seitz is likely to be among the three House members, and said he would happily accept.
“I’ve got a wonderful working relationship with Sen. Schuring and Sen. Huffman, and I pledge to continue to work with my good friends to get this done,” Seitz said. “We’ve talked about it long enough.”
Seitz hopes they come out with a conference committee report on the bill by early September. The committee report likely would get hearings in each chamber, then go for a vote. The House and Senate can only vote a committee report up or down. Amendments aren’t allowed.
“We’re going to forge ahead and I have great optimism that we will finally get this done,” Seitz said. “I hope we move toward expeditious consideration of HB 29 in a conference committee that exists to work out changes between the chambers.”
Redistricting is a possible roadblock to a September vote for sports betting. However, only the House Speaker, Senate President, and minority leaders of each chamber serve on the redistricting committee.
“Redistricting is going to be a contentious issue, but I’m hoping we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Seitz said. “It only takes four people out of the picture, although four very important people.”
What changes to Ohio sports betting lie ahead?
Given the compromises already worked out among Seitz, Schuring, and Huffman, there doesn’t figure to be any large-scale changes needed to gain approval from the House in the fall.
Seitz said lawmakers have heard a few complaints since amending HB 29. One is that the cost for Class A mobile licenses is high at $2 million for casinos/racinos and $1 million for sports entities. The license lasts for three years, and Seitz said the industry is lobbying for them to be extended to five years.
But the loudest complaints have come from grocers and convenience store associations. Currently, the bill limits sports betting kiosks to lottery agents with on-premise consumption, namely restaurants and bars.
“The main people unhappy with the bill are the existing lottery and keno agents who think all 11,000 of them should have machines,” Seitz said. “My take is if we allow all 11,000 lottery locations in Ohio to have multiple sports betting kiosks, that’s probably getting to an oversaturation point.”
Seitz added that the Casino Control Commission offered suggestions for technical amendments.