Like using an old textbook to teach a class when the new standard is readily available, the Ohio Senate will base Wednesday’s committee hearing on outdated sports betting language.
After a long wait for sports betting to get going in the Ohio Senate, and with a short window to pass legislation before the end of the year, the Senate is taking a curious approach to opening the issue in the lame-duck session.
However, according to Sen. John Eklund, Senate President Larry Obhof instructed Kirk Schuring, chair of the Government and Agency Review Committee, to hear his S 111 bill instead.
Eklund told PlayOhio he then went to the chairman and suggested substituting the new draft he and Rep. Dave Greenspan worked on all summer. But he found out there was a directive not to introduce the new language in committee at this time.
“He said ‘No, the [Senate] president doesn’t want to do that yet,’” Eklund said.
Why would Senate be slow-playing sports betting?
To hold a hearing on the vehicle with the longer route to passage and not allow discussion of the latest draft could seem like some sort of sabotage.
Eklund hasn’t had the opportunity to speak with Obhof on sports betting in recent months to know where he stands.
He said it’s possible that the Senate president is simply looking to further vet the issue rather than introduce a substitute that may still need amendments.
“He may be looking at it in terms of procedural efficiency and an acknowledgment that there are still conversations to have on what’s in the final version of the bill,” Eklund said.
Does the Ohio sports betting vehicle matter?
The sponsors will go ahead with the Senate bill as the sports betting vehicle if that’s what the president and Republican caucus want.
Eklund expects quick action in the House even if the Senate sends the chamber a new bill rather than the one it passed.
“I don’t think it would delay or act as a speed bump to the bill,” Eklund said. “I think you can be assured that we don’t have any particular concern as to whose name is on the bill as the primary sponsors. It’s a question of getting it done and getting it done right that matters.”
But he would not yet draw the conclusion that S 111 will be the final sports betting vehicle.
He added that he and the other sponsors are still working on changes to their most recent publicly released draft.
“I think the plan originally if we were going to be hearing the House bill was to introduce the substitute bill without those changes and then put in amendments later on,” Eklund said.
So what’s going to happen in Ohio committee hearing?
Wednesday’s hearing will include proponent testimony on S 111 as introduced. It will not feature testimony from opponents or interested parties.
It’s really no different from a year ago. On Nov. 6, 2019, the same committee held a hearing on S 111 with proponent testimony.
The only difference is the interested parties have seen up-to-date language of the sports betting bill. Even if the substitute won’t be introduced, they can speak from knowledge of where the bill is heading.
“I know there will be industry supporters of the bill who will come forward, even in its current form much less the draft we’ve been working on this summer,” Eklund said. “They’re going to be fully in support and, from what they’ve told me, view the effort we’ve put forth here as a model gaming bill.”
Eklund and the bill’s minority party sponsor, Sen. Sean O’Brien, are on the committee. So they can help steer the conversation.
What’s next for Ohio sports betting?
This week’s hearing likely will be an inauspicious beginning for the lame-duck push on Ohio sports betting legislation.
Ignoring the work the sponsors did all summer to rehash a hearing held a year ago does not seem conducive to launching the bill toward passage. And it’s confusing that the committee will not consider the sports betting bill sent over from the House.
Does Senate leadership even want to do sports betting this year? Eklund hopes to get the answer this week.
“What I think is next if I had my way would be a pow-wow with the chairman and president, and let’s come to some common understanding as to how we will proceed,” Eklund said. “I would hope that is a conversation we have this week. That would help bring us some clarity.”
Ohio’s legislative session could run through Dec. 31.