Pro-Gambling Lawmaker Won’t Run Again, Hurts Ohio Online Casino Chances

Written By Mike Breen on October 29, 2023
A picture of Mike Seitz for a story about how his decision not to run for re-election in the Ohio legislature hurts the future chances of online casino legalization.

Ohio state Rep. Bill Seitz was a staunch and vocal supporter of gambling legalization efforts throughout his 24-year career in the Ohio General Assembly. Unfortunately for Ohio gamblers, Seitz won’t run for re-election in 2024.

The colorful Hamilton County-based Republican has been the Majority Floor Leader of the Ohio House of Representatives since 2017. Last week, Seitz said he wouldn’t run for an Ohio Senate seat next year when his term-limited stint in the Ohio House ends.

In the General Assembly, Seitz was a leading advocate for the 2009 state constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling in Ohio. Seitz was also a member of the conference committee of state representatives that crafted HB 29. The bill paved the way for legal sports betting in Ohio, which launched on Jan. 1, 2023.

Once sports betting passed, Ohio became a haven for gambling in the modern landscape. The only gambling-related legislative frontier to conquer would be the legalization of Ohio online casinos.

It’s not a complete blockade. But without Seitz in the legislature, the pro-gambling crowd loses a major advocate for future online casino legalization.

Ohio currently losing out on iCasino tax revenue

Online casinos allow customers to play traditional casino games like slot machines, roulette, blackjack and poker. Some smaller states that legalized online casinos delay launching a poker vertical. The smaller population makes it tougher to spread more than a couple tables of poker.

For example, West Virginia and Connecticut have yet to launch online poker rooms. With a population of nearly 12 million, Ohio online poker would not have that problem.

Some online sportsbook companies also offer casino products. DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM all offer casino games in states where it’s legal.

Online casinos are legal in six states. This includes Ohio neighbors Michigan, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

For operators, the online casino industry is even more lucrative than sports betting. In other words, Ohio is leaving a lot of tax revenue on the table by failing to legalize.

A 2022 report by VIXIO GamblingCompliance projected Ohio could see more than $254 million in annual tax revenue from legal online casinos. Through August, Ohio sports betting has generated around $70 million in taxes for the state.

Ohio General Assembly likely to consider iCasino legalization in coming years

A leading argument for legalizing sports betting in Ohio was that the Buckeye State was losing money to neighboring states that had legalized retail and online sportsbooks.

The same logic applies for online casinos. Therefore, it’s likely the issue will appear in the Ohio General Assembly in the coming years. In 2020, some lawmakers told PlayOhio they had interest in pursuing online casino legalization. However, they felt it was more important to focus on the sports betting bill first.

Seitz doesn’t appear to have made any public statements for or against online casinos. But given his history of advocacy for the gaming industry, it’s probable he would’ve supported the bill.

Seitz was key supporter behind Ohio casino, racino legislation

In 2009, when Seitz was in the State Senate, the Columbus Dispatch called him “a leading legislative advocate for expanded gambling in Ohio.” Seitz’s support helped pass Issue 3 in Ohio in 2009. The initiative led to a constitutional amendment allowing casinos in Ohio’s four largest cities.

In the wake of Issue 3’s passage, Seitz was also one of only a handful of Republican state senators who supported Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s plan to allow the Ohio Lottery to install video slot machines in the state’s seven racetracks.

At the time, the state’s racing industry struggled, losing business to casinos in neighboring states like Indiana. Five of the seven race tracks were in danger of closing.

But today, those seven tracks, now dubbed racinos, remain and are a thriving part of Ohio’s gambling industry.

Seitz was an architect of Ohio’s sports betting law

Seitz returned to Ohio’s House of Representatives in 2016. He was a member of the six-person, bipartisan conference committee that in 2021 helped craft House Bill 29. The bill set up the framework for legalized sports betting in Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law in late 2021.

At the time, Seitz said he worked to make the bill fair and competitive for all the state’s gambling industry players.

For example, Seitz fought against a proposal in an earlier Senate version of the bill. The Senate version would’ve strictly limited the number of retail sportsbooks in Ohio’s larger counties. It would’ve given priority to pro sports teams as hosts, potentially excluding Hamilton County’s casino and racinos.

“It was always my objective to do what we could to encourage greater competition among the actual sportsbooks,” Seitz told the Statehouse News Bureau in 2021.

Seitz opposed doubling Ohio’s tax rate on sports betting

Seitz later supported Ohio sportsbook interests after sports betting launched in the state at the start of 2023.

Less than a month after sports betting’s Ohio launch, Gov. DeWine expressed interest in doubling Ohio’s tax rate on sportsbook revenue from 10% to 20%.

DeWine’s office said the increase was designed to “encourage better compliance with the rules” after some sportsbooks were fined for defying Ohio guidelines regarding marketing to minors and using imprecise language to describe bonus bet offers. Some lawmakers felt DeWine also wanted the tax increase to cut down on what he felt was an excessive amount of sportsbook advertising in general.

Seitz was the General Assembly’s most vocal opponent to DeWine’s tax increase plan, telling PlayUSA in February:

“I do not agree with this idea. A low tax rate encourages legal play through regulated entities, which we prefer compared to illegal bookmaking outfits. Moreover, the betting has only been legal for a little over a month. So we don’t even know what kind of money the regulated entities are making.”

To Seitz’s dismay, the tax increase was passed as a part of the state’s budget proposal, which DeWine signed in July.

“To me, sports betting has proven to be very successful in Ohio so why would you mess with success?” Seitz told PlayUSA after the rate increase was approved. “So I was against it and never dreamed we would end up doing it, but there you go.”

Seitz’s departure not necessarily death knell for online casinos in Ohio

Seitz’s departure from the Ohio General Assembly doesn’t mean that the prospects for online casino legalization in the state are dead. Neither the casino amendment nor the sports betting bill were made or broken by a single legislator.

There’s also the chance that Seitz could move on to other jobs that could benefit gambling expansion in the state. Seitz could become a lobbyist or earn an appointment to a state board like the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

HB 29’s bipartisan passage alone is proof that Ohio’s legislature is open to potentially approving future gambling expansion. HB 29 has likely helped educate lawmakers on some of how the industry operates in the online space.

Although Gov. DeWine showed his willingness to crack down on the sports betting industry this year, he still seems amenable to approving future gambling legislation.

A not-so-insignificant factor in that could be the industry’s support of him. According to an Associated Press report, gambling companies and lobbyists donated nearly $1 million to the Republican Governors Association. That group funneled more than $2 million into a PAC supporting DeWine in his 2022 primary and re-election bid.

DeWine’s current term as governor ends in early 2027.

Photo by AP Photo / Jay LaPrete
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen covers Ohio’s budding sports betting industry for PlayOhio, focusing on online sportsbooks and the state’s responsible gambling initiatives. He has over two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture in Ohio.

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