Ohio Pro Teams Argue They Need Sportsbook Licenses To Be Competitive

Written By Matthew Kredell on March 10, 2021 - Last Updated on July 19, 2022

Add professional sports teams to the growing list of entities that want in on Ohio sports betting.

Representatives of the Cincinnati Reds and FC Cincinnati asked members of the Senate Select Committee on Gaming to include them in legislation as potential sports betting licensees.

Ohio teams don’t just want retail sports betting in and around their stadiums and arenas on game day. They also want the opportunity to partner with sports betting operators to offer a mobile betting app.

“It is imperative that Ohio’s sports betting market include access to both mobile and retail sportsbooks for Ohio’s professional entities so that, as the content creators, we share in both the risk and the benefit, just like the casinos,” said Doug Healy, CFO for the Reds.

Others who have expressed interest in Ohio sports betting include casinos/racinos, the Ohio Lottery, bars, grocery stores. Bowling allies also joined the fun Wednesday.

Argument for Ohio sports team participation

Speaking on behalf of the Reds, Cleveland Indians, and the Memorial PGA Tournament, Healy asserted that sports teams opposed last year’s bill because it continued the casino monopoly on gambling.

He argued the legislature should consider the sports teams that have been economic drivers in the state for longer. He presented the vision of a three-legged tripod among the casinos, state, and sports teams.

“We are primary economic engines in our communities and should benefit from this new revenue stream, particularly because sports betting is wholly derivative from our businesses. Legalized sports betting in Ohio imposes risks on our sports that we are willing to accept so long as we have access to the benefit of new revenue from that market.”

Healy also mentioned how the COVID-19 pandemic devastated team revenues.

Direct participation of sports teams in sports betting used to carry a negative stigma as a possible conflict of interests. However, Healy contended that teams can be involved with sports wagering without being on the other end of the bets.

“Let me be clear, we do not intend to run sportsbooks. It would be an obvious integrity risk if a sports team were also running a sportsbook. In addition, Major League Baseball rules and the rules of the professional sports leagues would prohibit such a business arrangement. Rather, we are asking for the right to control a license for one mobile sportsbook and a retail location at or near our facilities that we would contract out to established sportsbook operators.”

Growing movement for team involvement in sports betting

The ask from Ohio sports teams isn’t without precedent. There’s a national movement in 2021 for sports teams to participate directly in sports betting.

Current legislation in Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Maryland considers sports team participation. While Georgia and Texas don’t have a commercial casino industry, Maryland does. Arizona has tribal casinos.

Illinois, Virginia, and Washington DC already have granted sports teams the right to offer retail and/or mobile wagering.

“The assumption that only casinos should have access to sports betting licenses is increasingly being questioned as more states legalize sports betting,” Healy said. “… This is a trend we only expect to continue as sports betting is legalized in the next few years across the country.”

Illinois’ sports betting law authorizes sports wagering for seven facilities with a capacity of 17,000 or more.

Earlier this year, the Washington Football Team became the first NFL team to get a sports betting license through Virginia, where it has a partnership with FanDuel.

Jeff Berding serves as president of the soccer club FC Cincinnati. He begged lawmakers not to leave Ohio’s professional sports teams at a competitive disadvantage to teams from other states.

Question of legality

Sen. Niraj Antani brought up the issue that Ohio casinos and the Ohio Lottery are constitutionally permitted to offer gambling.

That can’t be said for Ohio sports teams.

Antani asked Healy if the team would be open to having lottery terminals with sports betting in the stadium.

Healy said the that option hadn’t been discussed. However, he repeated that the team wants a mobile license so that customers can place bets from their seats.

Other topics discussed at Ohio sports betting hearing

Bowling alleys made their throw for inclusion. Last year, that toss was a gutter ball, but this year they’re hoping for a strike.

Joe Poelking, owner of three bowling allies in the Dayton area, and David Corey, executive director of Bowling Centers Association of Ohio, took their turns at the legislative lane.

Corey’s shot involved helping small Ohio businesses rather than out-of-state casino companies.

“Casinos and racinos have already stated that their mobile platforms will capture 85-to-90% of this new form of gaming. The in-person bets that they will take will capture another 5-to-10%, according to their testimony. So really all we’re talking about here are the scraps that will be left, but those scraps are so important to our local Ohio businesses. We do not believe that Ohio should continue to give out-of-state operators yet another monopoly.”

The bowling allies want sports betting through lottery kiosks already on their properties.

Corey added how sports wagering could help bowling allies attract customers back to their locations following the pandemic.

“We think you can all agree that Ohio’s hospitality industry, especially in the wake of COVID, needs every product partner possible in order to avoid further economic decay,” Corey said. “And by allowing sports betting on lottery kiosks and bowling centers, it would send a strong message that you actually do care about small businesses and the entertainment sector of Ohio’s economy.”

Representatives from sportsbook operator DraftKings and Ohio casino operator JACK Entertainment also testified.

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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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