Ohio casinos will have to wait a few more months before lawmakers approve a sports betting bill. But, more importantly, they now have language they can support.
Penn National Gaming vice president Eric Schippers tells PlayOhio the company supports the bill the Senate sent to the House.
Two weeks ago, the Senate amended sports betting language into HB 29, a bill on unrelated matters previously passed by the House, in a last-ditch effort to get sports wagering legislation on the governor’s desk before lawmakers went on summer break June 30.
The House balked, unanimously voting not to concur and setting the stage for a conference committee to discuss the bill.
“If HB 29 had passed, we would have been pleased with the outcome,” Schippers said. “Now this gives a chance for the House to understand all provisions in there and do some final cleanup. They may bring more substantive issues to the table but, from our perspective, we were supportive of HB 29 as it came out of the Senate.”
House already inspired significant changes to bill
While the House looks like the bad guys for not pushing through sports betting before breaking, the chamber’s reaction to the original Senate sports betting bill already produced a product much closer to what’s likely to pass.
On June 16, the Senate passed S 176, a bill crafted after four months of committee hearings. But the legislation took an antagonistic approach to casinos. Some Senators still don’t like that Penn sidestepped the legislature in legalizing casinos through a ballot measure in 2009.
The original Senate bill gave casinos/racinos no advantage for their investments into the state. In fact, county limitations combined with sports team preferential treatment could have kept casinos in major cities from having sportsbooks.
Schippers expressed gratefulness that the latest Senate language puts casinos/racinos on a level playing field with sports teams.
Penn owns four of the 11 casinos/racinos in Ohio. Schippers explained why he thought the Senate had a change of heart:
“I think there was frankly a lot of concern from some of our supporters in the House, certainly from our employees, and key stakeholders in our communities from the mayors to fellow business owners. Everyone wondered why would they disenfranchise the very gaming facilities in the state who have the infrastructure to run these types of games?”
Casinos will seek some Ohio sports betting changes
While Penn supported the passage of H 29 prior to the session break, Schippers indicated it would ask for some changes with the bill back at the negotiating table.
Most of those will be minor, to clean up and clarify language. Penn’s priority is keeping the core principles of H 29 intact.
Penn’s biggest concern left with the language is in regard to allowing sports betting kiosks at bars and restaurants. These kiosks would be limited in bet amount and type. But Schippers said Penn has concerns with this distributary model from a regulatory and cannibalization perspective.
Still, if providing this entrance to the market for small businesses is what it takes to allow casinos to compete with sports betting, Penn is fine with it.
“On a standalone basis, we remain concerned about those provisions,” Schippers said. “When we look at it and balance out pros and cons, the pros outweigh the cons in our willingness to support the bill.”
What’s next for Ohio sports betting
Soon, each chamber will name three or four members to handle the conference committee discussions. Schippers said he heard the conferees want to begin meeting in July.
House Speaker Bob Cupp told the Cincinnati Enquirer the plan was to come back into session with a conference committee report on H 29 already done so sports betting can be one of the first items the legislature addresses this fall. The House returns to session on Sept. 15.
“We’re pleased that it sounds like they are going to be working on it in conference over the summer, and encouraged by Speaker Cupp’s comments that this will be at the top of his list of priorities when they come back.”
After waiting three years to get sports betting in Ohio, Penn isn’t fretting about another few months. After all, the bill’s deadlines weren’t going to allow sportsbooks to launch in Ohio before the NFL season, Super Bowl, or March Madness anyway.
“While we were disappointed it didn’t get done by June 30, certainly we understand given the massive size of the bill and what it means in bringing new industry to Ohio, that the House is going to want to understand all the implications and aspects of the bill.