Back In The Ring: New Ohio Sports Betting Language Features Major Change

Posted By Matthew Kredell on December 2, 2020 - Last Updated on December 1, 2020

Sen. John Eklund announced Tuesday that he is “ready to go” with final substitute language for Ohio sports betting language.

Speaking at the Senate General Government Agency Review Committee, Eklund gave a rundown of bill highlights. Some of the new details, including limiting brick-and-mortar gaming licenses to a single online skin, won’t go over well with all in the industry.

It was an unscheduled mention of the bill in the committee. Chairman Kirk Schuring asked Eklund for an update, saying he knew a lot of people were interested in the sports betting legislation.

Eklund opened:

“What we have at this point is something that we are poised at the call to offer as a substitute to SB 111, the content of which has been informed by many conversations with proponents of the idea of sports gaming, primarily from the industry, opponents, professional sports leagues, Ohio universities and, perhaps most importantly, with the regulators of gaming activities here in the state of Ohio. I will report to you that not one of them, in the document we have ready now, got everything that they wanted.”

Highlights of latest Ohio sports betting proposal

House and Senate sponsors of the sports betting legislation first released substitute language in September. Eklund, Sen. Sean O’Brien and Reps. Dave Greenspan and Brigid Kelly spent the summer working out the differences between the House and Senate bills.

Key points of this latest and supposedly final draft include:

  • Authorizes sports betting for the 11 licensed casinos and racinos
  • Sets the Ohio Casino Control Commission as regulator
  • Licenses to offer sports betting cost $400,000 every three years ($200,000 application, $200,000 license fee)
  • Management service providers pay another $100,000 every three years ($50,000 application, $50,000 license fee)
  • 8% tax on sports gaming receipts
  • 2% of tax revenue goes to problem gambling, 98% to education
  • Each sports betting licensee may offer one online gaming app

The license fee for casinos and racinos to offer sports betting doubled since the last draft.

Online sports betting skins bottom out in final substitute

The number of skins in the substitute started at three in September, decreased to two last month and now is at one. The trend is confusing to some observers.

One industry lobbyist familiar with the legislative efforts in Ohio said:

“Just two weeks ago Senator Eklund told this committee he is working on changes to the bill that would make it the ‘paradigm’ for legal sports betting in the US. What he proposed today is exactly what every state should avoid. A single skin eliminates meaningful competition and undermines the potential of the Ohio market. Consumer choice will be curtailed and ultimately the state will lose out on millions in tax revenue. It is unclear who is telling the Senator that one skin is good policy, but they are doing so because of self-interest, not because it’s in the best interest of Ohio.”

Eklund addressed the change:

“We’ve chosen to limit it to one so you don’t have a proliferation. I will tell you on that score we have it on authority from people I trust that multiple brands can be a problem down the line, so we’re proposing that we stick to one online brand per location with the idea that if it becomes important and beneficial for the people of the state of Ohio to add more brands, that can be done with the switch of a statute down the road. It’s a lot easier to do than undo an untoward and inappropriate flood of online sports gaming.”

What’s next for sports wagering in Ohio

The prospects for Ohio online sports betting got off to a rocky start in the lame-duck session.

Rather than consider substitute language from the get-go, the committee gave sports betting a cursory five-minute hearing two weeks ago. And it curiously addressed the Senate bill rather than the one that already cleared the House.

Although the Senate has yet to announce future committee schedules, the committee could meet next week.

Eklund encouraged the committee to consider that sports betting could contribute to education funding. The bill specifies that school districts spend the funds on theatre, arts, music, speech and debate, athletics and other extracurricular activities.

“In many school districts,” Eklund said, “these kinds of extracurricular activities currently are going by the wayside, have been for some time, and we think Ohio students are the poorer, and ultimately our state is the poorer, for it.”

O’Brien contended that, if sports betting legislation does not pass this year, not only will Ohio lose out on revenue to surrounding states that have legal sports betting but private parties are likely to move forward with a ballot initiative not vetted by the legislature.

“We’re ready to go,” O’Brien added. “We have a great substitute bill. I think it’s good for Ohio to move forward and urge the committee to adopt the substitute bill as soon as possible.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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