The Ohio legislature fully returns to session today, but sports betting won’t be at the front of its agenda.
In fact, it probably won’t be part of the discussion for the next month.
Rep. Bill Seitz tells PlayOhio that redistricting will dominate legislative discussions for the early going of the fall session.
“Redistricting has preoccupied the room,” Seitz said. “But (Sen.) Kirk (Schuring) and I have been in regular contact and I remain optimistic that we are on track to work within the framework of HB 29.”
He added that he and his colleagues hope to have the redistricting bill done in the next month. And that the legislature will need to finish redistricting before addressing sports betting.
The Ohio House resumes its session today, a week after the Senate returned.
Redistricting focus dangerous for sports betting efforts
The Ohio legislature will decide on redistricting and then move on to sports betting. That seems simple enough.
But when it comes to a highly politicized issue such as redistricting, a legislative session can go south quickly.
This happened earlier in the year for legislation in Georgia. The Senate passed a sports wagering bill and it seemed on its way to doing the same in the House. Then Republicans and Democrats engaged in a battle over voting changes. In the aftermath, even a previously bipartisan issue such as sports betting became collateral damage.
In July, Sen. Kenny Yuko told PlayOhio of his concern that redistricting would suck all the oxygen from the room when the legislature returned from summer break. He also warned that most of what the Ohio legislature gets done in a session occurs by June.
Last year in Ohio, authors from each chamber came back with a consensus sports betting bill that seemed poised to pass. But it got caught up in a scandal involving the former House Speaker and didn’t reach the finish line.
This year does seem different. A Senate committee led by Majority Leader Schuring invested four months listening to interested parties and crafting legislation. Senate President Matt Huffman has been closely involved in the process. And House Speaker Bill Cupp said it’s a priority issue.
Schuring told PlayOhio that the issue has been very much on his mind over the break.
“I’ve been working on it every week since the end of June,” Schuring said.
Seitz is optimistic but not certain that the redistricting debate won’t derail the sports betting effort.
“I do not see that happening in Ohio, but you never know,” Seitz said.
Legislative delay could push back Ohio sports wagering launch
The Senate added sports betting language to HB 29 and passed the bill at the end of June. It included instructions for the Ohio Casino Control Commission to begin accepting applications Jan. 1 and award licenses by April 1.
When the House opted not to concur with the bill prior to breaking for the summer, those dates became unlikely.
Recently, the OCCC asked for those dates to be extended to six and 10 months, respectively, after the law takes effect. There’s a 90-day waiting period for the law to take effect after signed by the governor.
With redistricting pushing back consideration of the sports betting legislation until late October or after, that could delay Ohio’s sports betting launch until after the start of the 2022 NFL season. That’s if legislation gets done this year.
However, the OCCC’s suggestions have not yet been adopted in any bill. And it’s possible that the legislature provides the bill an emergency designation to expedite matters.